Fighting With Our Vote

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People are often averse to being approached on the street, but many are surprised when all I am asking for is if their voter registration is up to-date. No catches, no tricks, no emails. I am 16 years old, two years from valid voting age in Washington State, and increasing young voter turnout is a huge part of my life. With every voter registration I get, I am more hopeful for our country’s future. In the 2012 election, a measly 41.2% of 18-24 year olds voted, according to the Census. For our generation of young people, a vote is the first hurdle in a long stretch of barriers in front of young people to create political change. The fulfillment of this fundamental right is needed in order for politics to reflect a more diverse, progressive and media-savvy generation.

Why do so few young people vote? For young voters, maintaining a valid registration is much harder than for their older counterparts. According to Census data, young people today are buying houses historically much later and therefore are obtaining multiple addresses before settling down. With each change of address, they have to update their information, a step that many voters forget or do not have time for between moving, going to school, and working. In some states, bills systematically decrease young people from voting. 30 states require costly state-issued voter IDs, disabling many young people from casting their ballot. Blocking same-day registration is yet another hurdle in getting the youth vote. In a study done by the Census, 27% of young citizens did not vote because they missed the registration deadline, a problem that is minimized with later cut off dates. Legislators continue to push more limitations, including a bill that would raise taxes on out-of-state students who chose to vote in their college town.

Despite these barriers, young people who register are very likely to turn in their ballot, just behind older voters. Most of these pieces of legislation are backed by conservative legislators. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 73% of 18-29 year olds support same-sex marriage, yet only 12 states recognize it. Those under 30 are 2 times as likely as those over to agree that the government, not the private sector, should deal with the country’s social problems. By and large, the millennial generation is more progressive and do vote when registered. This is not a coincidence when looking at recent legislative efforts.

Voting is a habit. Some are taught from a young age of it’s importance, some are not. No matter your political persuasion, voting is a necessity when maintaining a representative democracy. Our government should encourage and enable young people to vote as much as possible. Laws that limit voting, no matter the group, take away from a valid democracy. Change takes a spark of rebellion and the undying belief in the need for change. It cannot happen by a select few. With youth engagement, things change, and those in power must listen. As a collective force fighting with our vote and our voice for just politicians, bills and laws, we can create the change our generation needs and demands.

Maya Garfinkel, age 16, is currently a sophomore at the Northwest School in Seattle, WA and is a contributor to Youth Political Engagement

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