Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. I think I’m becoming a cynic. I turned 18 and I can’t think of a reason to register to vote. I told my grandma and she told me to write to you and ask you why I should register. She thinks I will listen to you more than her. I think politics is nothing but one group calling the other group horrible names. No one is satisfied. I feel like people are just hateful. Every elected official gets attacked. On the other hand, it seems like elected officials don’t try to help our nation. Instead, they just vote as a party and block each other’s ideas. Am I a cynic? What difference can one vote make?

18-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: Thank your grandma for sending you to my inbox!

I think you’re questioning the negative aspects of politics. Your words tell me you are paying attention to what’s happening in the world. You don’t sound cynical to me; you sound like a person who is thinking critically about important topics like citizenship, responsibility and the future.

When I was 18, young people were drafted to Vietnam, but did not have the right to vote. I was in favor of lowering the voting age, even though I didn’t benefit from the change. Voting is a sacred responsibility to me. It gives each citizen a voice. The key to our way of government is participation. Every vote counts simply because each person is worthy. You are worthy. Your voice is important.

I hear you. Some people are partisan and seem unwilling to seek common ground. Those people are loud and take over the spotlight. The majority of people want the best for all of us. I have faith in our country. I have faith in young people like you.

Voting is an act of faith. I suggest:

First, get to know your local representatives. Call their offices and make appointments to meet with them. Before you do, research their voting records and stands on issues that matter to you. See them as humans, just like you. Respectfully ask them why they cast their votes.

Second, spend time with adults who care about you and have experience with voting. Ask them why they vote. Ask them to explain the difference a vote can make. Start with your grandma. Listen to her, please.

Finally, come to our Common Ground Teen Center at 92 N, Main Street, Washington, Pa. 15301, and register to vote at our Rock the Vote from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 14. If you’re not able to be there then, we will help you register anytime we’re open, from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. You’ll meet teens like you who share many of your concerns and are committed to having a voice in their own lives. To vote on Nov. 2, you must register by Oct. 18.

I asked our peer educators why they think voting is important. Here’s what they said.

Peer Educator Response: Voting is the only way for us to have a voice and be heard. If we stay silent and do nothing while our country gets worse, how do we expect things to get better? Young people should vote because we are the ones who have to live in the world. We’ll be the ones having kids. We’re the ones who need to live with the results of whomever is elected and what they decide to do. Voting is how we make a difference.

Q. This is my first election. Do I need to tell my parents who I vote for? I know we do not agree. While I still live at home, I think it would be easier if I just avoid talking about this. I’m afraid they will be angry. I know if I don’t tell them, they’ll probably guess, but I want to avoid conflict as much as possible.

18-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: You do not need to share your voting choices. Some day I hope you will be able to have an open conversation with your parents about voting, but I want you to be safe. Thank you for voting and being a good citizen.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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