Voting as a college student isn’t just a worthwhile act of civic engagement. It’s also your opportunity to tell those old fellas in power what’s what.
I am a voter. That seems like an uncontroversial statement to make in this nation of supposedly (so far at least) free elections. To talk about voting in the United States is such a common refrain that it feels almost cliché. But guess what? I’m an anomaly.
According to The New York Times, “fewer than half Americans aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 Presidential election,” which was the very first election I was ever able to vote in. A not-so-fun fact: young voter turnout is generally lower globally, not just stateside, according to the same New York Times article.
But still, what’s the deal, folks? I mean, come on, are we going to let everyone else just walk all over our future? Walk all over the Earth’s future? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I live on Earth! And you do too! (Unless: again, Elon, please call me!)
The online voter registration deadline in California is Monday, October 19th. However, you can still register to vote on Election Day (aka November 3rd). So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to lay out a few reasons why you should register to vote now, then you’re going to vote on or before November 3rd, and then prepare yourself for a nail-biter of an election week.
But guess what? Once millions of us use our electoral voice to say loud and clear what we care about, you’ll find the whole world listening. And that’s pretty great.
Why Young People (Generally) Don’t Vote
We young folks aren’t entirely to blame for our lack of turnout; as the same New York Times article explores there are some good reasons we generally vote less.
1. Habit Formation. This one is relatively straightforward. It takes a long time to make habits stick (as any regular gym goer knows). The trick is to go from “habitual nonvoter” to “habitual voter,” as a paper by Political Scientist Eric Plutzer calls it.
Step one to making the change: Register to Vote! It’s a quick and easy online step (until October 19th in California!) that doesn’t affect you in the slightest (other than fill you with pride as an American engaging in your civic responsibility).
2. Opportunity. The fact is younger folks tend to be busier (especially than people give us credit for!). We generally have jobs that enable less breaks and vacation time and require longer hours.
How do we fix this? A livable wage would be nice, but in the meantime we can exercise our vote by electing people who will make Election Day a National Holiday. On a smaller scale, encourage your employer (with support from fellow co-workers) to establish a time at the office to discuss voter registration. Or, organize a fun Politics & Prosecco virtual cocktail hour with your friends (champagne bubbles + voter registration + lively political discussion = killer evening plans). That’s an equation I and, more importantly, Michelle Obama (and her nonpartisan group When We All Vote) can endorse!
3. Alternative Participation. This one is actually more positive. Younger people tend to be engaged in other politically mindful activities (like protesting and activism) already, and so don’t feel compelled to participate in actual voting. But to do all that other political work and not vote is like leaving your bowl of ice cream (vegan or not) unfinished in front of you.
Why Voting is Cool (But Not Too Cool for School)
If it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, Meghan Markle, Florence Pugh, and Snoop Dogg, then it’s good enough for me, and I hope for you too. These are just a few celebrities that encouraged people to register on National Voter Registration Day, which occurred on September 22. “Millennials and some members of Gen Z comprise 37% of eligible voters,” according to NPR. And, according to the Brookings Institution, that’s roughly the same amount as pre-boomers and baby boomers.
Every election cycle, more and more young people reach voting age. We have a voice, we just need to use it. And here’s some positive news: More than ONE MILLION ballots have already been cast in California! This is record shattering news and backs up a nationwide trend showing potentially higher voter turnout than the US has had since, well, ever.
The first time you touched your driver’s license, knowing all the work that went into getting that laminated, very bad (at least in my case) photo of yourself into your hands, was doubtlessly an uplifting moment. So too with voting for the first time; but with voting, over 200 years of hard work, tenacity, and triumph now resides in your ballot instead of just 12-16 months of online courses, driving instructors, and one (or more) very boring day(s) at the DMV.
If I can be serious for just one moment: many parts of the world are not democratic; there are, without a doubt, world leaders who deny free press, restrict their citizens’ right to vote, and generally do more harm than good. A list of examples would need a whole new blog. It’s not just fortune that brought us here; we (by which I mean a loose collection of women, people of color, and men) have worked tirelessly for the right to live in a democracy (as imperfect as that democracy still remains).
Voting is an opportunity to tell our officials, the people who make the rules, what matters to us. As a growing electorate stuck on a burning planet with system-wide racial and social injustice, it’s paramount we make that voice heard now and forever after.
In the 244 years of U.S. existence, first White men without property, then technically Black men (though we’d need the Voting Rights Act to make voter discrimination stop), then women, and then Black women have fought for equal representation to exercise their vote under the stars and stripes. But here’s the thing: all those hard won and hard fought victories can be taken away unless we keep on fighting.
When you hold your ballot, you are holding living history, a document that will be woven into the fabric of the United States and the world in real time. Don’t let your piece of that national fabric get taken away from you. Register to Vote and exercise your right to make history today.