Youth voice in the democratic process

Youth too young to vote can still have a voice in the democratic process by taking an active role in their community.

Although youth under 18 are not able to vote, youth can influence and be involved in the democratic process starting at a young age. Young people can make their own futures by putting their time and energy behind causes and candidates they support.

Youth can volunteer at polling places or with political campaigns. Volunteers are always needed to stuff envelopes, check in voters and answer general questions. These tasks may seem menial, but involving youth in the processes can share a different perspective and spark their interests in civic engagement at a young age. The state Democratic or Republican parties can connect you to local resources where you can help out.

Youth can attend public meetings. A quick visit to a local city, township, county or school board’s website will review upcoming meetings and agendas. The Open Meetings Act requires that all meetings are open to the public and individuals have an opportunity to provide comment. If youth are passionate about a topic being discussed, they can speak during public comment. This experience makes public decisions real for youth and helps them realize that they have a voice in the process.

Some local communities support youth councils or youth community foundations. These groups put decision-making power in the hands of youth and better connect communities to youth needs and interests. For example, the City of Saline supports a Youth Council as a regular commission of the city. The group of 13 youth meet twice monthly in the council chambers. Their input is often requested for topics that involve youth. If such a group does not exist in your community, you can work to get one started.

Michigan 4-H programs support youth-voice in decision making processes, starting at the local club level and throughout the organization. Members of the Michigan State University Extension are able to provide training with community organizations to better involve youth in decision-making and setting up a structure that is welcoming to youth voice.

Educational programs can spark an interest in governmental processes. 4-H Capitol Experience provides an opportunity for youth to observe and simulate Michigan governmental processes through a three-day experiential learning opportunity at Michigan’s capitol. More information about this opportunity can be found on the Michigan 4-H website.

Youth can provide powerful and unique perspectives to issues that can leave adults at an impasse. While adults often approach issues based on history, tradition and deeply rooted political values, youth can bring an open-minded approach that offers new perspectives on political processes.

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