How to give democracy a lift

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Since his heart transplant more than a decade ago, Coeur d’Alene School Board member Dave Eubanks has taken to growing things on his property, including a veritable forest of Christmas trees.

Add this to his growth chart: Great educational ideas.

Eubanks was out working his good earth recently and connected some dots between two realities.

One reality is that most 18-year-olds don’t vote. The other reality is that 18-year-olds have every right to vote and, in fact, would become more engaged citizens if they did so.

Eubanks’ idea: Let schools provide voter registration cards with nonpartisan instruction to students who will turn 18 in the current school year.

Locally, this could easily be coordinated through the Kootenai County elections office. Representatives from various political parties or factions could be invited to witness the process in schools, just to ensure that partisan persuasion doesn’t infiltrate at any level.

For those of us who have been whining for ages about the lack of civics education in our schools, Eubanks’ idea would offer practical experience to young adults, complementing the theory behind the importance of voting.

In the May 15 Republican and Democratic primaries, Kootenai County will be lucky if one-quarter of registered voters actually exercise that right and responsibility. Keep in mind that many thousands of residents who are eligible to vote aren’t registered, so that one-quarter shrinks further when considering actual citizen participation. In the primary two years ago, 22.61 percent of the county’s 70,129 registered voters bothered to vote.

Getting 18-year-olds comfortable with the voting process sets up what’s more likely to become a lifetime habit. That’s key if younger people truly want the representation to which they’re entitled.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most popular election of the four-year cycle — the 2016 presidential election — broke down by age group this way:

• 65 and older: 70.9 percent turnout

• 45 to 64: 66.6 percent

• 30 to 44: 58.7 percent

• 18 to 29: 46.1 percent

Data on what percentage of 18- and 19-year-olds voted isn’t readily available, but applying the statistical tendency for older people to vote more and younger to vote less, it’s a safe bet that very few 18-year-olds are exercising that constitutional right.

Putting voter registration cards and instructions in the hands of high school seniors makes sense — and could very well make our nation stronger.

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