In his most recent column, Jeremi Suri spoke about the importance of public transparency and accountability. He stressed the right of citizens to be informed. This echoes the fundamental democratic ideal – an informed citizenry.
In the past few years, public and private institutions alike have been scrutinized for neglecting individual rights to privacy. The National Security Agency collected volumes of metadata on web users. Samsung Smart TVs listened to customers’ private conversations. Facebook shared questionably descriptive user browsing data. Despite this exposure and opposition, political participation is still insufficient. Voter turnout is low. Constituencies are not equally represented. The demand for greater public accountability is coupled with dwindling political participation. If there is a need to change this, why don’t people participate?
One idea is that citizens don’t feel like they have an active role in their leaders’ decision-making processes.
Take the American youth, for example. Compared with previous generations, young people today volunteer more, are much better educated and are “less likely to drink excessively or use drugs than previous generations." They're civically active — they’re just not politically active. Twenty-one percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2010 midterm elections. The ethos of democracy and equal representation gets lost among the voter registration papers, IDs and boxes on the ballot. To citizens, our government is monolithic. And they don’t think that their vote will count.
Politically active citizens also tend to be well integrated — they are local property owners and residents. Students, and many other groups of people, are constantly confused and disadvantaged by restrictive voter ID requirements. They move often, from apartment to apartment, and don't necessarily have driver’s licenses or passports readily available. These inconveniences deter already low political participation.
The most effective way of demanding accountability and transparency from the bureaucracy is political participation, in which there is a clear disparity. In order to encourage greater transparency among our policy makers and public institutions, people must show up at the polls and demand it.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.