Dear Voters under 30,
My name is Peter. I am currently eighteen years old, going on nineteen this August. As I spend my summer canvassing neighborhoods and making phone calls, I am always surprised to see how many people from my age group find no interest in voting. The 26th Amendment of the Constitution sets the voting age at eighteen years old, yet many of my peers are apathetic towards politics in general. Even in the election years with high youth turnout, such as 2008 or 2012, only about 50 percent of eligible voters under the age of 30 voted, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Midterm elections fare significantly worse, with only 24 percent of youth voters participating in 2010. This can have serious implications in our political system if youth turnout remains so paltry. After all, Barack Obama most likely wouldn’t have won either the popular vote or the Electoral College if the youth turnout was only 24 percent, instead of 50 in 2012.
It isn’t that we don’t care. Whether I’m wandering about campus, hanging out with friends, or just out in the community, I overhear you guys voicing your opinions on everything. Sometimes you’re thrilled, other times you’re just making a joke about how lazy Congress is. What I notice the most though is a completely apathetic view of democracy. There is little interest in voting, not because it is a hassle, but because so many of us believe our vote is useless. The narrative that our votes don’t count and the impression that politicians will never legislate to our needs dominates the perspective of our demographic. I won’t argue that there are a lot of useless, stiff suits in government who need to be thrown out. But I’ll let you in on a secret: you can help me get rid of them.
It isn’t a secret that there are issues that are of high importance to us; the economy, job prospects, health care, and student loans are just a few. But if we look at the demographics of Congress, we see a great deficit of representatives from our generation. We don’t even have many representatives who are close to our generation by age. Only 8 percent of governors in the United States are under fifty (four governors). The Senate is only slightly better, where 10 percent of their body is under fifty (ten senators). Even the House, which has the highest representation of members under fifty, only has 26 percent of its body under the age of fifty (one hundred fifteen representatives). When you change the representation to under forty, there is not a single governor or senator, and the amount of House members drops sharply to thirty three (7.5 percent of the House). Many of our government officials grew up in a world completely different than ours. College wasn’t leaving millions of students with debts greater than their first year’s salary, jobs were out there for those who worked hard, and health care costs weren’t skyrocketing out of control yet. How can we expect them to understand our plights?
The solution is for us to tell them about our struggles. It isn’t that our lawmakers are stupid, it’s just that they haven’t walked a mile in our shoes. Right now, all they do is read the vague talking points. We need to make our voices heard. By participating in elections, our lawmakers will see that we are a significant demographic in order to secure victory. We can put pressure on our lawmakers to heed our calls for reform. They’ll hear our testimonies and want our input on how to solve the issues. We can make government work for us, even if very few lawmakers are from our generation. Eventually, if we can continuously participate, we can perhaps elect more members from our generation earlier than age forty to public office to institute reform. But I’m starting to get ahead of myself.
So what do I ask of you? It seems daunting at first. I’m not asking you to run into the streets and raise hell. I’m asking you to take a good hour out of your busy schedule to find out what elections are coming up in your area this November and make sure you’re registered to vote. Then, just take a few moments out of each week to see what the candidates are up to. You’ll gather a lot quickly by looking it up in your local news. I tend to ‘like’ local news sources on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, so the news will be accessible any time. As you sift through the news, you’ll develop opinions on the issues and the candidates. If you feel inclined, contact the candidates through email or social media to get questions answered, or even to get involved! If you’re too busy or don’t feel strongly enough to volunteer, that’s fine too. Just keeping up with the news is more than enough participation for some people.
Regardless of what you do to participate, you should exercise your right to vote. As you get closer to Election Day, consider voting early so you can get it out of the way. Otherwise, you can vote on Election Day in November. Don’t forget to bring your ID if your state has a voter ID law in place (Yes! They actually have those!!). Voting is the way for us to get the attention of our lawmakers, and if we can’t get their attention, how do we expect them to actually hear anything we have to say?
Many of us already have taken a step by keeping up with the news. I applaud all of you, and encourage those of you who haven’t kept up with the news to give it a shot. For us who do vote and get involved, I have one last thing to ask of you. Talk to your friends, coworkers and peers. Sometimes you just need to give someone a little nudge to spark initiative and original thought. If we see 30 percent of youth turnout in 2014, I think it’ll be surprising. But just imagine if we came out in droves and hit 50 percent again, just like in 2012. We would immediately shake things up in Washington, and that’s with only half of us voting!
We’ve had our voices heard already on marriage equality, and look at the progress we’ve made with the shift in public opinion on marriage. We can make a difference, and we already have made differences. Let’s take it a step further, and make sure we are given the respect we deserve. President Obama showed the United States how influential the youth vote can be; that was only the beginning. It’s time to show the United States we aren’t just influential, but that we are also here to stay in the political calculus. Good luck this year, and I hope you’ll reconsider how influential your vote will be this November. It’d really help us begin to fix the issues that impact us.