By Qur’an Hansford and Bridget Gum
Oct.13 is the last day in New Jersey to register to vote. As someone who will be participating in their first presidential election, the idea of our vote being so significant, now more than ever, is overwhelming. It can take a toll to think about how different the voting process will be now that we are in a global pandemic.
BBC reported a survey last year that found that 43% of 18-29 year olds said they were likely to vote in their party’s primary but actual turnout appears to have been far lower than that. An analysis of exit polls from Tufts University suggests youth turnout in the Super Tuesday states ranged from 5% to 19%. Why are young adults reluctant to vote? Possibly because voting is looked at as an added responsibility rather than a right that should be exercised.
Also, younger voters may not know exactly who to vote for, which could be their deciding factor. Many young people complain about registration deadlines, and for students living out of their home states, getting an absentee ballot can be even more complicated.
Political science professor Olivia Newman said, “Voting is always important, but this year more than ever. Our country is facing so many challenges that can only be resolved by a government that truly reflects and represents all of its citizens. It is especially important for young people to vote because they have the most at stake.”
As constituents of the U.S. government, American citizens seem to believe that laws and policies are something that happens to us, not with us. Although citizens have the right to vote, it is not always easy to.
A lot of young people can feel disengaged from politics. A Harvard survey found that only 16% of those aged 18 to 29 agreed with the statement that “elected officials who are part of the Baby Boomer generation care about people like me.”
Actress and activist Yara Shahidi described voting as an upper middle class hobby — you have to have the time to physically go vote. If you have an hourly job that is not always your reality. Then there is voter disenfranchisement, the practice to prevent a person from exercising their right to vote. But, when we look at lack of voter education there is a political jargon that is used that intentionally targets a specific group of people. A group of people who actually understands our political system. But, for those who are outside of that, then voting in our government is something that happens to you, rather than something that happens with you.
“It is easy to feel alienated from the political process when the political process can be so ugly and it seems like nothing ever gets done,” Newman said. “But our system depends upon input from the people, and voting is one of the easiest ways for us to have a say. You may wonder what ‘one small vote’ can change. But all those votes add up. Make sure that your voice is heard in this and future elections.”
One voice can often feel inadequate in this political climate, but it is important to remember that many successful politicians and social justice advocates probably felt the same as you at one point or another.
If you do not feel like current politicians reflect the viewpoints of their younger constituents, then take action. It is common for someone to ask, ‘what can I do?’
You do not have to become a politician or even be well versed in the political tensions, debates, and climate of our country to take action, although, it is often recommended. The most basic way to make an impact on your community or a social justice issue is to vote.
Many people often forget that voting is a privilege and many people do not have that privilege, both inside and outside this country. There are many people to this day that do not have a say in the politics of their country, not to mention the people excluded from voting in this country. Those who are non-citizens of the U.S., those who are or have been in prison and those who are deemed mentally incapacitated are all excluded depending on the state.
This doesn’t count for the populations that have been historically excluded from voting. Women only got the right to vote in 1920; this year marks the 100th anniversary of this event.
“Voting and citizenship was largely denied to people of color until 1870,” according to americanprogress.org, and while people of color were legally granted voting rights after the Civil War and Reconstruction, this country continued to block them from voting using other methods.
Many people feel like if these minority groups fought for the right to vote, then those groups specifically should vote. Even if you’re not a minority vote, this country was founded on the principles that people should have a more vocal and representative role in the government because they were so oppressed in Great Britain.
Everyone who is eligible to vote should exercise that right. One voice may not seem that powerful, but it can make a big difference. Even if you don’t feel very connected or passionate about politics, there will be at least one issue that you will be concerned about and your voice should be heard.