For decades, one group of Americans has remained consistently underrepresented at the polls: young adults.
Only 19.9 percent of 18-29 year olds voted last year, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). It was the lowest youth turnout in the past 40 years. The percentage of young adults who said they were registered to vote (46.7 percent) also sunk to the lowest rate in 40 years, CIRCLE reported.
Historically, youth have never been a large voting population. Currently, citizens 45-64 years of age make up the largest group of reported voters, according to the United States Census Bureau. So why aren’t young people voting?
It’s an interesting question, since young adults today seem to care more about their communities than ever. All available information points to the fact that millennials do at least as much charitable work as their parents, if not more. According to a 2014 Associated Press GfK poll, people under 30 are more likely to say that citizens have a “very important obligation” to volunteer.
According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 84 percent of millennial employees made charitable donations in 2014, and 70 percent of millennial employees volunteered in 2014. One would think that young people today would jump at the opportunity to vote in local, state and national elections—but they don’t.
The reasons for this are many. Election candidates often don’t target young people in their campaigns, since they make up such a small proportion of active voters. This lack of engagement only makes young people less interested in voting.
Millennials, like many other U.S. citizens, may also feel apathetic and disillusioned with American democracy, with its Super PACs, corporate donors and party politics. Many other young people simply don’t know how to register or vote and assume that the process is difficult and time consuming.
However, it is essential that millennials vote in upcoming elections. According to the United States Census Bureau, this group makes up more than one quarter of the population. They now outnumber baby boomers by 7.7 million. Millennials are also more diverse than previous generations, with 44.2 percent non-white.
As such a huge and diverse portion of the United States population, young adults have the power to make their voices heard in all levels of government. They have the power to elect more diverse officials, strengthening the democracy by including the perspectives of minorities and traditionally marginalized groups.
In the past, it has been the youth of a generation who fight for civil rights and social change. We can see this today with the recent legalization of same-sex marriage. If more young people exercise their right to vote, today’s youth could exert more pressure on the government in the name of social justice.
Millennials have an especially strong stake in American democracy. They will have to deal with the consequences of choices the government makes today. Because of this, young adults need to participate in the creation of the country in which they and their children will live.
Even though no individual vote decides an election, young people have power in numbers. Even if the candidate preferred by young people does not win, representatives will be more receptive to their millennial constituents if they realize how large the voting population of millennials is—but first, young people must vote.
Registering to vote in Michigan is easier than many realize. To register, you must be a resident of Michigan, a citizen of the United States and at least 18 years old. If you qualify, simply fill out the one-page application found on the Michigan Secretary of State’s website here and mail or hand it in to your city or township clerk.
You can find your clerk by visiting the Michigan Voter Information Center. After registering, the clerk will mail you a voter registration card telling you exactly where to go to vote.
If you are unable to make it to the polls on election day, you can take advantage of absentee voting. After registering, fill out an Absent Voter Ballot Application found here and mail or hand it in to your local clerk.
You will then be mailed a ballot. You have until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day to vote and mail it back to your clerk. Even if you are registered in another state, you can participate in absentee voting to vote in your home state.
In Michigan, local elections are coming up on November 3rd. To view your area’s sample ballot, input your voter information at the Michigan Voter Information Center.
Local elections are perhaps the most important elections, since the issues and candidates decided in local elections most immediately impact citizens’ lives. This is a great opportunity for young people to register, vote and realize the power of their decisions. It’s time for millennials to be heard.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons: “Election Day08 Wyo1” by Leila Monaghan- own work.