Time to register and time to vote

I was in line one day at a local grocery store in my home state of Maryland. A Hispanic man was at the register, conversing with the cashier in Spanish. I was surprised that the cashier, an elderly white woman, was fluent in Spanish and was able to assist the man with his purchase — the man thanked the woman and left the store. 

The next customer, another elderly white woman, placed her items in front of the cashier. There was no dialogue until the customer asked the cashier, condescendingly, “Why weren’t you speaking to that man in English?” The cashier calmly responded that she was working on her Spanish and that the man was very kind. She finished the woman’s transaction and wished her a good day.

I have often thought of this moment ever since. It was a small but encouraging example of love prevailing over hate. I was grateful that the man left the store before hearing the comments of the other customer, so that he would not have to witness such unwarranted hostility. However, I am also aware that others are not so fortunate. 

Many of our peers have faced harsh words and actions simply because of their appearance and culture — cultures that have contributed so greatly to the beauty of this country. 

I hold this previous memory as a testament to the overwhelming goodwill of Americans. I believe that a majority of people are guided by morals that shed love to all and hate to none. At the same time, I am aware that there is a power structure in place that encourages discrimination through both legislation and rhetoric. The point of this piece is to bring awareness to these injustices and to encourage my peers to exercise their right to vote.

The good news is that the 2016 general election saw about the same youth voter turnout as the one held in 2012—the election in which young people were highly active and voted in large numbers for former President Barack Obama, according to The Center For Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). The bad news is that there is still only about 50 percent of eligible young voters going to the polls. 

According to CIRCLE, young people, ages 18 to 29, make up 21 percent of the population that is eligible to vote. This makes young people uniquely able to influence the outcome of election results. Paired with the fact that our generation has the most information available to us than any other time in history should make for a recipe of an informed and motivated electorate.

Why is it, then, that so many young people choose not to vote? According to Barbara Franz, the chair of the department of political science at Rider, young people have lost interest in the political process. Franz believes that the continued spread of misinformation and the actions of politicians have contributed negatively to the current political climate.

“It is crucial that we get informed and understand the historic time we are living in. It will not help us make smart decisions if we believe the rhetoric that comes from various, quite discredited sources in and outside of the government,” said Franz.

While the spread of false information and hateful rhetoric is startling, it is perhaps not the largest issue at hand. Recent legislation at the state level aims to decrease voter turnout. The passage of voter-identification laws has become incredibly partisan and politicized. 

These tactics are employed in a number of ways — wiping names off of voting logs without notifying an individual, restricting same-day registration and the opportunities for voter registration.

“Voter suppression campaigns throughout the country have targeted the electoral participation of various groups, such as youth, people of color, new citizens and the poor,” said Franz. 

The suppression of voter participation is deliberate. There is an aging and rotting power structure in Washington that would like to prevent the tides of change from infringing on its influence.

There are a plethora of other issues facing our country. The judicial decision of Citizens United has continued to give billionaires massively unequal influence in American politics by protecting the idea that unlimited campaign contributions are protected by free speech. 

Health care premiums continue to soar, children still remain separated from their families at our Southern border, the opioid epidemic is claiming thousands of American lives a year and climate change threatens almost every aspect of our current lives.

We should all be concerned with the direction our country is going in in order to solve these problems. The most effective way to voice our opinions is to vote. 

Freshman filmmaking, TV and radio major Christian McCarville, who is registered and plans to vote said, “I think a lot of young people do not like how things are ran and, to change that, we have to be active by voting.”

Students from New Jersey have to register by Oct. 16 and can vote on campus by visiting Rider.edu and going to the NJ Voter Registration page. Out-of-state students can visit their state government’s website and request an absentee ballot. Midterm voting begins on Nov. 6.

—Stephen Neukam 

Sophomore political science major 

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