Election season is well under way and candidates have been scrambling around, marking their territories and lobbying for all the votes they can get. Many college students seem to be on either one end of the spectrum or the other: there are those who press us with political issues and urge us to “make our voices heard” and those who seem not to care and often refrain from voting. We may often take it for granted that our political system is well enough established that all legal residents of the United States have the right to vote, but it is important to remember that this is not a universal guarantee.
Indeed, if as many citizens around the world had the equal voting conditions that we in the U.S. do, our TV screens and newspapers would not be filled with the latest updates on “election violence”. Universally, most countries have made major progress in the last several decades to establish a voting age of 18 (or in some countries, as low as 16). But despite all of that progress, there remain millions of college students around the world who cannot vote due to unjust voting systems or higher age restrictions. In Japan and Tunisia, for example, you cannot vote until you reach the age of 20. There also remain a handful of countries, including Cameroon, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Central African Republic and Oman (among others), of which the voting age is 21. Is it even feasible to imagine that the right of passage these citizens wait 21 years for is so critically different from what we wait for? Imagine celebrating your 21st birthday not by hitting the bars, but by registering to vote.
Then there is Uzbekistan. In a country where almost half the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, overwhelming political corruption is not a surprising fact. The target of many human-interest organizations, Uzbekistan is currently under surveillance for several human rights violations. Among these may be the fact that Uzbekistan citizens are denied the right to vote until they have reached 25 years of age. What makes this even more devastating is the fact that over 34 percent of the population is under the age of 14. This means that the majority of Uzbek people are denied almost any say in their country’s government or political figures. If these people can wait 25 years to cast a vote in a national election, students in the U.S. can take five minutes to register to vote (www.rockthevote.com).
For those who say, “I am one person, my vote won’t count,” contemplate this: in the United States, everyone over the age of 18 can vote, whether male, female, gay, straight, wealthy or lower class. In Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a monarchy, the only people allowed to vote in the country’s single local election (held in 2005) were male citizens over the age of 21. That means that there is an entire demographic in the U.S., comprised of females and persons aged 18 – 20, who can cast that many more votes than their Saudi counterparts. Therefore, take advantage of our democracy. There is no effort in voting- it’s as simple as a few clicks of the mouse and some dots on a paper. If that’s too much for you to muster, consider a move to Uzbekistan. I’m sure it’ll be a welcome relief from all the campaign jabber.
Andrea Powell is a freshman media studies major