By Sean Franklin
It’s election season again, and I’m excited. I already mailed my absentee ballot back to my home state of Virginia. I’ve been able to vote for for just two years now, and it is still a thrill to me. However, it seems that my peers do not share my excitement. Time and time again, young voters are the ones who don’t show up to the polls. Voters aged 18-29 consistently have the lowest turnout rates of any age group.
The high water mark for youth turnout (since 1998) came in 2006, when a paltry 25.5 percent of voters in the age bracket cast a ballot. Turnout is projected to be barely higher this year. This needs to change. Young people have the most at stake when election season rolls around, and they should be voting in proportionate numbers. Here’s why.
1. Voting is a privilege. You should value it.
In the United States, we are uniquely blessed with a democratic self-government. From a historical perspective, the freedom to choose one’s own leaders is a fairly recent development. Most of our ancestors were ruled by kings and tyrants. Even today, few people live in countries that have truly free and fair elections. China and Russia are ruled by despotic regimes that are uninterested in the well-being of their people. Elections in Africa and South America are plagued by corruption and fraud. We here in the United States have a privilege that few others in the world can claim. To squander it is folly.
It’s not a privilege that came easy, either. You might recall from your history classes that we fought a war against Britain to win the right to govern ourselves. Even after that, a lot of battles had to be fought to expand the right to vote to everyone: first to non-landowners, then to non-whites, and then to women. Even now, state governments in places like Georgia are trying to limit the number of people who can vote through draconian voter registration and ID laws. People had to fight for the right to vote. If we don’t use it, their sacrifice was for nothing.
2. Your vote matters more this year than it did in 2016.
People often complain that they feel like their vote doesn’t matter. But this simply isn’t true. It’s most profoundly untrue in the kind of elections that will be happening this year: races for state legislatures, governorships, U.S. House representatives and senators. Last year, control of the state congress in my home state of Virginia was determined by just one vote. Your vote counts – don’t ever let anyone convince you it doesn’t.
Presidential election years consistently have the highest voter turnout rates. However, presidential elections are the ones that citizens have the least control over. Millions upon millions of Americans vote in presidential elections, whereas down-ballot races are routinely decided by a few thousand votes or less. Your vote counts the most in local elections – the more local, the better. Vote for your representative in Congress. Vote for your state representatives and senators. Vote for your school board members. Your voice counts more in local races than in hyper-national ones like those for president.
People often complain that finding information about all these local races is a lot of work, but it really isn’t. A quick Google search of the race or the candidates will yield plenty of websites with information about the candidates’ platforms. It’s a nominal amount of work to do to make an informed decision about who you want to be in control of the government.
3. In an election, young people have the most at stake.
Counterintuitively, older people vote the most in elections. People aged 65 and up are the most likely to vote, routinely doubling or even tripling turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds. But older people have the least at stake in elections. The decisions made today will have effects that reach years, even decades into the future. Older voters won’t have to live with the consequences of the decisions that today’s government makes. We will, and we should vote accordingly.
Sean Franklin, FCRH ’21, is an urban studies major from Alexandria, Virginia.