The Importance of the Youth Vote

By Carolyn Amir, LWVMA Intern

I am twenty years old, which means, like many of my fellow college students, I will be voting in my first presidential election this November. Two years ago, I tentatively mailed an absentee ballot to my home state, questioning whether a new college freshman is eligible to vote in Massachusetts. But, now a seasoned veteran, I am ready for the big leagues: Hillary versus Trump, Republican versus Democrat, one versus one. Bring it on.

This summer, I interned at the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, so, as you would assume, I care about politics. Last election cycle, my peers and I avidly followed the news and tracked congressional candidates, inserting our all-important undergrad opinions into every conversation. However, when asked whether they would be casting a ballot, my peers would hesitantly admit that they did not know how or when to register, had forgotten to register, or could not find a polling place.

This confusion and nonchalance is representative of America’s youth population as a whole. Youth voters make up about one-fifth of the voting population, but this group ages 18-24 consistently has lower turnout rates than any other age group. Partially this shows we are ill-equipped, but maybe it shows our apathy more; lack of motivation to engage prevents us from figuring out how to vote, as well as why to vote.

This is not that surprising; although we are now technically “adults,” we are all still discovering how everything in the adult world, including voting, works. But, unfortunately, when a demographic does not turn out to the polls, politicians have the luxury to neglect them. Regardless of party and office race, politicians will always shape their messages and policies to their intended audiences: the largest voting populations.

Our generation does have the potential to be one of the largest voting populations. And, like all generations, we have our own unique needs, needs which will continue to be under-addressed if we repeatedly fail to engage. We might not care right now, but we will certainly care not so far down the line, when we are left with enormous college debt as a result of the current American university system. We will care when our next president is making decisions on environmental issues that will undoubtedly affect us far longer than it will affect them. And we will care when we face the real adult world and must navigate an ever-fluctuating job market.

Assuring that young people get their needs met by taking part in the democratic process is a shared responsibility; generations before us have an obligation to teach us the rules of civic engagement. There is a tendency to preach the abstract importance of voting. Parents and educators should additionally explain the voting process itself, from registration to the voting booth. And to my fellow millennials who are newly of voting age: do not rely on someone else to help you. Figure out for yourself how to exercise your right (we have the internet!). You’re an adult now.