By Ken White and Dominic Beck
Millions of Americans will vote in this year’s midterm elections. Millions more, who could have voted will not; some unregistered, others unmotivated. Millions more will not be eligible to vote, including some of the people who have the most at stake in this election: youth. To mark National Voter Registration Day, let’s activate the power of the youth vote…and voice.
Historically, voting rates have been highest among older voters. Even with the lowering of the voting age to 18 in 1974 (a move supported strongly by the Junior State of America), young people still vote at lower rates than their older counterparts and hold (arguably) less political influence.
There are many arguments for not voting. From the principled (i.e, W.E.B DuBois’s “Why I Won’t Vote”) to the practical (i.e., “My district and state will be a landslide, so why bother?”) to the predictably cynical (i.e., “Don’t vote; it only encourages them”). And, if you’re under 18, you can’t vote.
So why get involved in the midterm madness at all?
Here’s one practical, principled, and uncynical argument for youth involvement in this election: To remind people that voting isn’t just about today; it’s about what happens for generations to come. After all, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
It’s all too easy to fall into the habit of voting only for our immediate self-interest (think of retirees voting for the promise of more Social Security benefits, or communities voting for the representative who promises to bring the most bacon back to their district).
Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with folks looking out for themselves, or expressing self-interest through their votes. Our recommendation: Young people, express yours!
Remind voters (and non-voters) that by action or inaction, they’re creating a legacy that will influence this country long after they’ve passed on.
When young people register voters, pre-register their peers, organize and speak up at candidate forums, share information on issues, help get out the vote on Election Day, or any other action you choose (JSA’s Midterm Menu has some great ideas and resources), you remind people that they have a choice … and you have a voice (even if you can’t vote).
And, that you’re depending on them — and very soon, your peers — to recognize that we all have a shared interest in the future of our democracy.
Voting for the first time in the Midterms? Tell JSA what you are excited about.