The typical momentum and hype surrounding the
presidential election is intensify as November approaches. But this year
candidates and their campaigns share the political spotlight with another race—the push for voter registration. As big of a question as "who will win" is "who will vote, and how many?"
According to the U.S. Census, only 55 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2000 presidential election, a rate lagging far behind that of countries like Norway, Germany, and Sweden, all with voter participation rates above 80 percent. In an effort to combat the American slump, organizations like Rock the Vote, Citizen Change, and America Votes, among many others, have emerged with the intent of increasing voter registration and participation in the 2004 elections. Simply too few Americans are showing up on Election Day, and at least a few think engineers are no exception.
Some in the engineering community, unsatisfied with the current statistics, hope to increase their profession's participation this November. The mission of www.engineeringthevote.org, a website sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers, is to help engineers join the American electorate. The site provides information on voter registration, absentee ballots, and every state's electoral deadlines. While the website started as a basic source of information, its creator Russ Harrison, the legislative representative of grassroots affairs for the IEEE, says the real inspiration came from his meetings with engineers outside of Washington, D.C. "Engineers would ask me surprising questions like, 'How do I get an absentee ballot in my state?' and I found it difficult to give a quick answer," Harrison says. "I wanted to find a way to bring all the information together for engineers in a single, compact location."
The website aims to raise political awareness among engineers and increase the engineer voting block, even if it's just a little at a time. "Right now there is not a good understanding, even among very educated people, of how to participate in the electoral process," Harrison states. "This website is an easy way for engineers, as citizens, to find out about voting procedures."
Why engineers should vote?
This election abounds with important issues affecting engineers. "They're impacted by decisions of public policy makers in their daily and work lives, from taxes, environment, and trade to labor laws," says Phil Hamilton, the managing director of public affairs for the American Association of Mechanical Engineers. Specifically, Federal Research and Development funding is an area where policy decisions have close engineering ties. And since the President has a say in the federal budget allowances each year, it seems engineers would want a say in where the money goes.
A candidate's position on immigration policies and temporary Visas for foreign workers, also has a direct impact on the technical workforce. Stricter policies on H-1B Visas, for example, may lead to more Americans hired by American companies (see Design News articles on this subject: http://rbi.ims.ca/3856-516 and http://rbi.ims.ca/3856-517).
Government can also influence the exodus of jobs to offshore locations. The House voted to fund a study concerning offshoring this past July, led by Congressman Frank Woolf, and some support more research to ensure the future of American engineers. (see Woolf's website, http://rbi.ims.ca/3856-518).
Also, a candidate's stance on early education policies should concern engineers at the polls, says Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager for the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, a sponsor of engineeringthevote.org. "Because society is becoming more technologically complex, engineers are generally interested in public policy that is oriented toward improving the math and science achievements of pre-college students. If these students are not offered the best possible education, specifically in math and science, our nation will not be able to produce high-quality engineers."
So whether in the race for registration or the issues driving campaigns, it seems engineers have reason to acknowledge their position as an important political force. Hopefully this year on Election Day, the polls will show the same.
|My dog ate my ballot
|Reasons Given for Not Voting in 2000
|(Percent of Registered non-voters)
||Illness or emergency
||Out of town
||Didn't like candidates
||Refused, don't know