It only comes once every four years. It is a day of unity, expression, equality and freedom. Every citizen over the age of eighteen in the United States has the opportunity –the right– to be a part of something huge. Presidential Election Day. The long awaited day that is consumed by the media, Facebook, and Twitter months in advance. An individual can choose to voice an opinion with discretion and secrecy in the voting booth, or one could also choose a more vocal approach with heated debates, obnoxious campaign signs, and even the occasional protest.
After all, this is the land of the free, and if there’s one thing Burger King has taught me, it‘s that in the United States you really can “have it your way.” So why is it, then, that in the midst of the exciting and tumultuous day of our general election, I see the youth of the country sitting in their dorm rooms with absolutely no intent of casting their ballots? Seeing firsthand the lack of political activity among my peers and all those belonging to Generation Y makes me question whether or not I should care enough to vote myself.
There is no argument that young voters (ages 18-34) have increasingly shown a lack of voter turnout in general elections. According to an article by The New Republic, 53 percent of 18-29 year-olds visited the polls in 1972. By the year 2000, that figure had dropped to 35 percent, which became a new historical low. So why is this a problem for me and my fellow Generation Y brothers and sisters?
The answer is clear and simple. By choosing not to vote, we are also choosing not to have anyone represent our ideals and political agendas in government. At a time with increasing student-loan debt, a shocking unemployment rate and overall declination of the quality of life, Generation Y has more reason now than ever to start affecting political change. “People who try to have influence on government are going to have more influence than people who do not try” (Wilson 161). All of this begins with the polls.
Many causes of political apathy among the younger generation have been noted, and in some cases, several attempts have been made to attract these voters. Registration is one of these causes and this resonates in particular with college students. First-time voters have to get a registration form, learn how and when to register, and then deliver it. Most college students will have to request absentee ballots if they are unable to go to their designated polling stations on Election Day. Unlike the older generation, younger voters are typically not yet settled and therefore the voting process takes more effort.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, over a quarter of college students reported that they did not register to vote because they didn’t know how or had missed the deadline. However, there have been steps to make this process simpler including the motor-voter bill of 1993. This allows citizens to register to vote as they are applying for a driver’s license (Wilson 166).
Perhaps one of the biggest causes for lower voter turnout among young people was identified through the honesty of my own roommate. Paige Toepper, my roommate and also fellow first-time voter, did not go to the polls for the 2012 election simply because she had not previously been engaged in the political issues and felt ill-equipped to suddenly be making such decisions. “I haven’t been following up on politics until this point and I don’t believe I should vote for something when I’m not even sure what it is that I am voting for.”
Once I heard this from my roommate, I found it to be a common theme on my entire floor. The problem isn’t that Generation Y doesn’t care to vote but, rather, that no one has really had the chance yet to be exposed to politics in an informative light where we feel confident in our own beliefs. My proposal for the solution to this problem begins in the education system. We should integrate politics and current events into our curriculum for high school students. This would also include the entire process for registering first-time voters, so that those who have not been exposed have a base to fall back on.
The lack of voter turnout among the younger generation is a serious problem for the future of America if young people aren’t allowing their voices to be heard and to influence government. If people do not start voting while they are young, there is no way to know if they will ever begin to exercise this fundamental right. Being able to integrate politics as part of high school curriculum is an easy way to start getting the young generation engaged and involved. By doing this we can begin to push forward new innovative ideas and ultimately begin to successfully form our future as a society.