Young voters underrepresented at the polls

Image by Theresa Thompson

By Leslie Muir /// Opinions Editor

There is an epidemic among us. College students be warned, the very thing that we hold near and dear to our hearts is threatened by our own inaction. Across the nation and in our own backyard, our voice as the young people of America is being stifled by an easily rectified yet often ignored issue: voting.

We do not do it.

This  is a problem that is often lost in the hub-bub of election season, especially on a politically active liberal arts campus. We get excited, we buy Bernie Sanders bumper stickers, we watch the debates in crowded council chambers and cheer for our favorite candidate. However, this anticipation and hype over the outcome of a very contentious elections cycle does not translate into votes.

It is not that all young people do not vote. It is not that most of us believe that we will vote in the upcoming elections, and if not in the primaries then certainly in the general election come November. The reality is that a surprisingly large number of young voters do not turn out to the polls. For the past century, the lowest percentage of voter turnout has been the age range from 18-29. The second lowest has been the next age range up from 29-39, and so on until you reach the highest percentage of voters, those 65 and older. In the very heated 2008 election, young voters only accounted for 18% of the total voting population, this in a year when the youth vote was supposed to make the difference. In this election cycle when the youth are being so heavily focused on by the Democratic base, the same hope that we can “rock the vote” is all but counted on.

It is already not going as planned. Take the Nevada Caucuses as an example. Bernie Sanders easily had the youth vote in the democratic caucus , topping 80% of polled support. However, Clinton won out of the only 80,000 people who turned out to vote, most of those 50 years and older. If this trend continues throughout the primary cycle, and potentially more dangerously in the general elections this November, the youth vote will hardly make a dent in the determination of our next President.

There are many reasons why this trend might be happening. Within the 18-29 age range, it may be many people’s first time voting. This can be daunting and even overwhelming, leaving many to brood at home instead of cast their support for one candidate. For college students, voting absentee can be confounding and annoying depending on the bureaucracy of their home state, and getting the right dates down for returning a primary ballot can be confusing. Another under-emphasized issue, especially in very politically active communities such as LC, is apathy. An often-said statement, “I just don’t like anyone who is running,” may be true, but does that really help steer America in the direction that you would like it to go? It may be corny, but voting is truly the greatest gift we have living in a democratic nation. Even if you’re writing in your own favorite candidate, or leaning slightly in a direction that you might not have considered earlier, casting your vote is the most important thing that you can do to change the way things are currently done in politics. As we head out of the primary cycle and towards the national conferences in which each party will determine their official candidate, it is important to remember that whether or not your party is backing your first choice, voting in any direction will make your voice be heard. In an election where some of the candidates’ brash and frankly insulting styles instill fear in the heart of half of the population, this is a very important thing to keep in mind.

We are young and idealized. We stick to our political beliefs and vote accordingly. This is what makes the youth vote so important and valuable in every election. If we settle into apathy, or allow the confusion of bureaucracy to get us down, our voices will never amount to anything. The best person for the job can’t win if no one votes for them, and we have the numbers and the power to change that. Don’t let this epidemic continue for one more day, and go sign up for an absentee ballot now, or figure out the primary election day for Oregon (May 17th) or simply register to vote. Make the difference that you’ve been talking about this election season.

Please vote.

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