When I turned 18, I told my dad I was never going to miss an election. Not a general, primary or special election. I grew up with parents that took their civic responsibilities seriously and I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. At the time, it seemed like that’s what every adult did. You voted in every election. Every time there is an opportunity to cast a ballot, you show up.
In hindsight, I can see now that my 18-year-old self didn’t quite understand the reality of voting in this country. I didn’t know that there are all types of ways the vote is suppressed. I didn’t understand the barriers to voting for some. I didn’t see that it wasn’t always easy. But now I do.
If you know any 18-year-olds, you know that this is a time of great transition and not all have voting on the top of their to-do lists like I did 25 years ago. But that doesn’t mean their voices and their votes aren’t important. From 1972-2012, 18 to 29-year-old citizens turned out at a rate between 15 and 20 percent lower than those 30 years and older. We must do better.
I don’t think this is a “them versus us” issue when it comes to increasing turnout amongst young voters. I’m way past the 18 to 29-year-old demographic but I certainly think our community will be better represented with a stronger turnout from this age group.
As of May 31, there are only 7,593 registered voters in the 26th Legislative District aged 18 to 24. It’s obvious we’re missing a big section of eligible young voters here.
What can we do? If you know of any young and unregistered voters, you can encourage them to register before the upcoming general election in November. They can register online, by mail or in person. They can even show up in person on Election Day to register!
Seventeen-year-olds who turn 18 by Election Day can also register early to ensure they are on the rolls when it’s time to vote. If you don’t know any young voters personally, you can still help with increasing their ranks by donating to or volunteering for organizations such as Rock the Vote and the Youth Voter Movement.
But just registering young voters will simply never be enough. We need to encourage young voter turnout by ensuring the candidates and issues are relevant to their lives.
Young voters often report that their top issues are economic inequality and security, climate change and civil rights. Are these priorities reflected in our candidates’ beliefs and the party platforms? If not, we must do better and demand more. It’s the responsibility of all voters, not just young voters, to make sure our candidates are being challenged on issues that include the priorities of the youngest voting demographic.
We can’t just expect these voters to turn out if their priorities aren’t anywhere on the ballot. Our community will be stronger if we can increase young voter turnout and reflect their values in our elected representatives.
And if you happen to be wondering if I’ve missed an election in the past 25 years, the answer is no. Not yet.
Meredith Browand is a mother and an activist who lives in Purdy.
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