Election time? The people’s vote goes to Sanjaya

A select group of regular Joes have recently become household names thanks to a phenomenon called “American Idol.” While the reality show does seem like a fantastic opportunity for up-and-comings to seek their 15 minutes of fame, concerns have been raised about whether the show has become more popular than truly important issues.

Last year, more than 63 million votes were cast in the “American Idol” season finale. “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest boasted during last season’s final show that the number of votes received for that one episode was “more than any president of this country has ever received.”

I use the word “boasted,” as that is how the quote was stated. Yet there is nothing in that statement worth boasting about.

In the 2004 presidential election, just over 118 million Americans voted at the polls, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. This may sound like a healthy amount of voters; however, this number is equivalent to only 53.3 percent of Americans over the age of 18.

Half of the population who were old enough to vote didn’t.

On a local note, USUAA elections were held last week. Only 815 ballots were cast, yet there are about 15,000 students on campus. This gives us a grand total of 5 percent of the students at UAA who voted for our student government.

This is something that I do not understand. Actually filling out a ballot takes maybe 15 minutes at a polling station, and, I might add, for national elections this happens only once every four years. Yet people devote an hour per week to watch “American Idol,” season after season. Not only do they watch the show, but many vote for it every week.

- Advertisement -

I have heard the argument that voting for “Idol” is easier because you just pick up the phone and call in your vote. Even if your excuse is that you are too lazy to go to the polls, ever heard of absentee ballots?

I have also heard the argument that the “Idol” voting system allows people to vote an unlimited number of times, making the numbers between Idol voters and presidential voters not so striking.

These claims may be true, but it does not excuse registered American voters from not voting. Why is it so difficult to take 15 minutes once every four years to vote someone into one of the most powerful positions in the world?

Parallel to the voting turnout numbers, it appears that Americans are also more familiar with this season’s idols than those running for the presidency next year.

In a recent “Good Morning America” episode, a lighthearted survey was done to test this very thought.

Random people were stopped on the streets of New York City and asked to identify pictures of both presidential hopefuls and Idol contestants. The results were appalling.

“It’s shocking, because not only did people know more about the contestants than they did about the presidential hopefuls, they knew their first and last names,” said “Good Morning America” reporter Bianna Golodryga. “I mean, you would have thought they were talking about family members. It was really, really scary.

“There was one girl whose parents were in the back cheering her on because she knew all the contestants but she knew not one of the presidential hopefuls, and they didn’t care . She was probably about 16 or 17, but I mean some of these names, come on – Rudy Giuliani, and she was from New York! And one of the girls – her mother knew all the contestants, but she knew none of the presidential hopefuls either.”

It is both shocking and sad that the teenager and her mother knew nothing about those running for the presidency. This lack of caring and attention toward the government does not teach upcoming generations of voters the importance of having a voice and taking advantage of the right to vote.

As Golodryga noted, “It was really, really shocking. This tells us a lot about the times (we live in).”

Just within the last 200 years, minorities were granted the right to vote in presidential elections. Both women and nonwhites would not have even had the right to go to the polls to cast their votes. This opportunity, this freedom, was fought for, and now far too few Americans are taking advantage of it.

I am not saying we need to understand every issue on the ballot, although that would be wonderful, but we should take the time to briefly understand what is being voted upon and form an opinion about it. We need to take those 15 minutes to let our voices be heard. This is a privilege American citizens have, and yet it is a privilege that is not being used.