Everyone should vote
“If young people decide to go out there and vote, we have the power to affect what the government does. We could have a big impact.”
So said Nestor Aguilera, a 20-year-old Indiana University business major from Elkhart, Indiana. Aguilera’s simple statement pretty much tells it like it is. He admits that he didn’t vote in 2016, but he promises to show up for this fall’s midterm elections.
Other young people should, too. Regardless of your political persuasion, voters — young and old — have the power to affect government.
Getting out the youth vote has long been a struggle. For instance, a CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll taken 15 years ago found that the potential voters younger than 30 surveyed said they weren’t as interested in politics as their older counterparts. In 2004, Urban Outfitters, a clothing chain based in Philadelphia, even thought it would be hip to diss voting and produced a T-shirt proclaiming “Voting is for Old People.” That’s just dumb.
But surveys now show voting trends among young people may be changing. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans, explains why that is significant.
CIRCLE says young people are a major subset of the electorate and their voices matter.
∫ 46 million young people, ages 18-29, are eligible to vote, while 39 million seniors are eligible to vote.
∫ Young people (ages 18-29) make up 21 percent of the voting eligible population in the U.S.
∫ Young people’s participation can influence election results.
U.S. voter turnout in general is pretty lame when compared to other nations. Just slightly more than half — nearly 56 percent (86.8 percent registered) — of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Compare that to 87 percent (89.37 percent registered) in Belgium, 82.61/85.81 in Sweden, and 78.96/90.98 in Australia. In fact, 25 other counties had a higher percentage voter turnout/registration in their last election than the United States.
It’s especially shameful given the sacrifices made to secure the vote. Contrary to what some believe, the war fought and won against Britain did not secure equal rights for all. Only white men who owned property could vote at the time. There were also literacy requirements and restrictions on people of certain religious denominations. And it wasn’t until the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 when blacks were able to vote. Even then, it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before that right was actually realized.
Meanwhile, women died to earn their right to vote. In 1848, native Utican Gerrit Smith, also a noted abolitionist, made women’s suffrage part of the Liberty Party platform. A short time later, suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls for a convention, setting off a 70-year struggle for voting privileges. Many women like Susan B. Anthony who helped secure the vote did not live to exercise that right. (Although Anthony did vote in the 1872 presidential election, and was tried and convicted of voting illegally. She was fined $100, and told the court: “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” And she didn’t. No further action was taken against her.)
Finally, after a long, bitter struggle, the 19th Amendment — ratified on August 18, 1920 — gave women the right to vote.
As for young people, 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote in 1971. Even then, just about half of those eligible voted in the 1972 presidential election. It was even worse in 2000, when just 29 percent of young people voted.
The survey also found that more young people believe politicians care what they think: 34 percent of 15-to-34-year-olds report that elected officials care at least a moderate amount about what they think, compared to 25 percent two months ago. At the same time, two-thirds say they think the government is not functioning well, and just over half — 52 percent — say they rarely or never read or watch news about the midterm elections.
That’s not only contradictory, it’s a recipe for disaster. Anyone leery of the way government operates needs to be finding out about those who would lead it in every way possible in order to make informed decisions at the ballot box. Failing to do so abdicates their responsibility as a citizen.
Our goal as parents, grandparents, family, friends, teachers and even peers is to encourage discussion of issues and candidates so young people do not feel disenfranchsed from the process. Then, they need to take the first giant step toward the voting booth: Register.
Remember, democracy is based on majority rule. But when a small percentage of those eligible to vote fail to register, and an even smaller amount of those who do register actually turn out to vote, we are being ruled by the minority.
The Utica Observer-Dispatch