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The Voice of the Black Community

Opinion

A young voter explains why there aren’t more young voters
 
Published Friday, November 2, 2018
by Jonah Perrin, Special To The Tribune

Upon seeing my Facebook page mainly consisting of repetitive posts trying to coerce young people into voting, many slightly older people approach me asking for ways to increase the low rates of voter turnout among my generation.

“You should be on college campuses,” they politely suggest. “Why don’t you try social media?”

It is hard to deny the frustrating trend. People under 30 are 21 percent of registered voters in my home state of North Carolina, but as of Oct. 25, they had cast only 7.3 percent of the votes. Granted, 2018 brings what is known as a Blue Moon, when no statewide race draws out voters. But the results are only slightly better in presidential years. While it is easy to discount those in “Generation Z” as unaware, uninvolved or simply apathetic to their community’s plight, I’d like to share the other side of the story – from the perspective of a politically-engaged 18-year-old.

Young people are essentially disenfranchised. Until they turn 18, a relatively arbitrary landmark to mark maturity, our younger population has virtually no say in the government that supposedly represents them as much as anyone else. Most of us learn American civics by eighth grade and are ready to participate, but lacking the vote, the money or the organizational capacity, fresher voices are rarely listened to by politicians.

But once they hit 18, they are thrust out into the public sphere, compelled to answer for their actions and participate in the democracy that has been effectively shutting them out their whole lives. To make matters worse, when filling in a ballot, youth see a Congress – averaging 58 years of age – who talk up issues that have existed far longer than newer voters’ tenure or that predominantly affect older populations (populations that vote). For young people suddenly expected to participate, this is daunting and it is unsurprising that many don’t buy into the system.

All this is not to say that I endorse the situation at hand. I find it appalling that so many people of my cohort stay at home when they could be exercising their most essential civic duty, one that so many in prior generations have worked so hard to protect or attain.

Between all-too-frequent school shootings, average student debt hovering around $37,000, global climate change that threatens mostly younger voters, and the numerous insecurities of facing us as we try to join the workforce, so many of today's most pressing issues affect young people acutely, and voting is the way to make change. It also feels really good! In my opinion, voting for the first time this election cycle provided for me the most quintessential of many coming-of-age experiences.

As the 18-year-old field director for 28-year-old congressional candidate Ryan Watts in N.C.’s 6th District, I am pleased to announce that there is a way out of this vicious cycle. However, no one has ever achieved anything with stagnation. By voting for candidates with crisp perspectives or with ideas that can help people just entering the voting arena, we can show the strength in our numbers.

Though this op-ed was not specifically intended to serve as a plug for Watts, I am proud to say that I have rarely met a candidate more responsive to the issues of the entire populace while also remembering the specific quandary that young people face.

If there are any members of Generation Z who are still on the fence about whether to vote or who are just planning to sit this one out – who took the time to read this – I strongly urge you to go to the polls. I understand the ambivalence, the situation into which you have been unfortunately plopped, and a few of you may have legitimate reasons to stay home. But most of you don’t. Though I am certain this will sound very similar to my Facebook spam, I feel compelled to share once again:

Believe it or not, you can make a difference.

To vote is to show that you matter.

To vote is to make your mark.

You are ready.

 

Jonah Perrin is the field director on Democrat Ryan Watts’ congressional campaign.

 

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