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 had a huge argument with my dad. He said it doesn’t matter if you vote or not. He doesn’t vote. I’m not old enough to vote in the November elections, but I will be 18 in the spring. I intend to register right away. Why do people stop voting? My dad is a good guy. He works, he provides for us, he takes care of us. I couldn’t get through to him about this, though. Any ideas?

– 17-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: I believe voting is an act of courage, of faith, and of hope. It is also our responsibility as citizens. I’m thrilled you’re interested in voting. We hold Rock the Votes at our Common Ground Teen Center before each election. Please connect if you wish; we will help you register.

Just as I feel passionate about voting, I have empathy for your dad. Many Americans don’t believe their votes count. It matters if each person votes, but people may feel their votes are lost in sheer numbers. Not true. Some elections are incredibly tight. Local elections may come down to single- or double-digit differences between candidates. One vote can mean a candidate wins or loses.

Even if a candidate wins by a landslide, each individual vote is a testimony to our democracy. Voting is a witness for the future. Voting gives people a voice in their own government.

I don’t know your dad, but I believe you when you say he’s a good guy. Perhaps he doesn’t realize his role as a model. You’re watching him. Nothing solidifies citizenship like casting your vote for every election, no matter how small. Local politics are just as important as national races. Commissioners, mayors, judges, members of city council or school board members make decisions impacting our daily lives.

Here’s an idea to help encourage your dad’s voting. Tell him you admire him. Share his role in securing your future. Remind him his vote will help keep our democracy strong. He should vote for himself, but his desire to protect you as your father should motivate him even more.

When you do vote, get informed. Know the candidates and their platforms. If they’re incumbents, look at their voting records. Vote wisely.

Good luck.

Peer Educator response: In our opinion, people should vote, but they should also know what they’re voting for. We think it’s important to vote. People often stop voting because they feel their votes don’t matter. In big, national elections, it may feel as if a vote is lost, but we still must vote. It’s super important to vote locally so you can elect people you trust to represent you directly. We need to take voting seriously, and vote at the local, regional, state and national levels. You may not be able to change your dad’s mind, especially in today’s political atmosphere, but don’t let his behavior discourage you from voting.

Q.

Do you think 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote? I’m 16, and I’m more informed than a lot of adults. If I can drive at 16, why can’t I vote?

– Obviously 16!

Mary Jo’s response: Last year our peer educators created a card game called Debate without Hate. It’s currently being made into an interactive website. The game encourages debating with dignity. Players lose points if they disrespect an opponent. All facts must be checked.

One of the debate categories is your question: Should 16-year-olds be given the right to vote?

Our peer educators researched and created all 24 topics. Here are their thoughts on 16-year-old voting:

Pro: 16-year-olds are still in school and are well informed. They can make well-thought-out decisions.

Con: 16-year-olds have little life experience. They need to wait to vote.

Pro: Some votes cast now will impact 16-year-olds all their lives. They should have a say.

There’s not much difference between 16- and 18-year olds.

Con: 16-year-old brains are not fully developed.

Pro: Brain development continues into the early 20s, but no one suggests waiting until then to vote.

Con: 18 is a good age, since people can enlist in the armed services at 18.

I’ll return your question to you. Why do you think 16-year-olds should vote?

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

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