Upon seeing my Facebook page mainly consisting of repetitive posts trying to coerce young people into voting, many slightly older people approach me asking for ways to increase the low rates of voter turnout among my generation. “You should be on college campuses,” they politely suggest. “Why don’t you try social media?”
It is hard to deny the frustrating trend. In the 2016 elections, under half of all eligible voters under 30 chose to participate in their most basic civic duty, a whole 15% lower than the average turnout across the board. While it is easy to discount those in Generation Z as unaware, uninvolved, or simply apathetic to their community’s plight, I’d like to share the other side of the story, from the perspective of a politically-engaged 20-year-old.
Numerous structural barriers essentially disenfranchise younger voters. Until they turn 18 – a relatively arbitrary landmark to mark maturity – our younger population has virtually no say in the government that supposedly represents them as much as anyone else. Most of us learn American civics by 8th grade and are ready to participate, but lacking the vote, the money, or the organizational capacity, fresher voices are rarely listened to by politicians. But once they hit 18, they are thrust out into the public sphere, compelling them to answer for their actions and participate in the democracy that has effectively shut them out their whole lives. To make matters worse, if they make it into a polling place, youth see two presidential candidates who tally 151 years of age among them and a Congress who that average 58 years of age. They all talk up issues that have either existed far longer than newer voters’ tenure or that predominantly affect older populations (populations that vote). For young people suddenly expected to participate, this is daunting, and it is unsurprising that many don’t buy into the system.
That being said, I do not endorse the situation at hand. I find it appalling that many people of my cohort stay at home when they could be exercising their most essential civic duty, one that generations worked so hard to attain or protect. Between all-too-frequent school shootings, average student debt hovering around $30,000, global climate change that threatens mostly younger voters, and the numerous insecurities facing us as we try to join the workforce, so many of today’s most pressing issues affect young people acutely, and voting is one way to make change. In my opinion, voting for president for the first time this election provided for me the most quintessential of many coming-of-age experiences.
As the former 18-year-old Field Director for a 28-year-old Congressional candidate and a current fellow on a 31-year-old’s campaign to become the first Latinx Democrat in NC State Legislature history, I am pleased to announce that there is a way out of this vicious cycle. However, no one has ever achieved anything with stagnation. Some candidates even at the top of the ticket want to make sure your voice gets heard. And further down the ballot, you are more likely to find those running for office who look like you and share your broader concerns. By voting for candidates with crisp perspectives or with ideas that can help people just entering the voting arena, we can show the strength in our numbers.
Young people around the nation recognize the leadership questions surrounding the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the horrors of racial injustice played out on the big screen and main streets across the country even more dramatically than previous years, and countless other issues that it becomes harder to ignore that voting is the nearest and most available action.
All this could explain why more than half of young voters plan to vote this election year. I wrote this piece to explain to the general electorate why it is understandable that “more-than-half” number isn’t higher. That being said, if any members of Generation Z who are on the fence on whether to vote took the time to read this, I strongly urge you to go to the polls. I understand the confusion, the situation in which you have been unfortunately plopped, and yet I see few excuses to stay at home. Though I am certain this will sound very similar to my Facebook spam, I feel compelled to share once more: voting is the best way to show you are ready.