The College Voting Conundrum
Voting is the essence of democracy. One voice, one vote, for one person.
As a democratic republic, the United States has a long tradition of voting. But the right to voting hasn’t truly been offered to everyone until the recent century.
For the longest time, the right to vote was limited to land owning white males. Gradually it expanded to all white males. It took a bloody Civil War to bring a Constitutional Amendment that gave right to males of color, and a national movement to bring another Amendment to finally allow women to vote. Even then, a definitive, protected right to vote wasn’t guaranteed. You were legally allowed to submit your ballot, but anyone could do what they wanted to prevent you from getting to that ballot box.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 established protection for voter registration and minority voters, eliminating wide spread efforts to systematically bar minority voters from submitting their votes through laws and intimidation.
Finally in 1971, another Constitutional Amendment lowered the voting age for all US citizens from 21 to 18. While several issues persist with voter ID laws and limits on early voting, several other laws and Amendments have steadily codified a protected, tax-free and test-free, right to vote for all U.S. citizens, where before the Constitution had almost no guarantees for voter rights.
Despite this long and often bloody struggle for voting rights, the voting turnout in the United States remains noticeably low. Out of the total population of citizens over the age of 18 (roughly 220 million), only 65 percent or 142 million are registered to vote. And out of those 142 million registered voters, only about 60 percent actually vote during presidential elections. That number dips dramatically during midterm elections, hitting roughly 40 percent.
Voter participation in our democracy, especially in regard to young voters, is a huge issue.
More Unwilling to Vote than to Go to Class
The youth vote, considered to be any voter from 18 to 29, remains a woefully small percentage of any voter turnout. Even the historical surge of youth voters for Barack Obama in 2008 quickly faded. Fifty-one percent of youth cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election that saw President Obama to a historical victory. But in the 2012 presidential election, that number fell to 45 percent. In the 2014 midterm elections only 19.9 percent of youth voted, a statistic considered to be the lowest youth turnout ever recorded in a federal election.
Exactly why the youth vote is so low is not entirely known. The reason most political analysts point to is that youth quickly become disillusioned by the eternal gridlock in Washington. The record youth turnout and hope inspired by President Obama’s 2008 campaign quickly gave way to jadedness, and youth turned back to their civic disengagement.
A more complex answer to why youth turnout remains low includes a belief that their vote doesn’t matter, a long trend of youth withdrawing from traditional institutions (i.e. political parties), and a continually growing distrust of the government and related groups. Factoring in that most youth resort to the internet and social media to conduct their social activism, and the picture of low youth voter turnout becomes clear.
Why should they try to participate in a system that doesn’t answer to them, when they can be heard through mass media and social platforms instead?
The Voters’ Paradox
When youth do vote, it seems like a cycle. They get caught up in the promises and idealism of a campaign like the 2008 Obama campaign. Their candidate gets elected. Some promises are met, some fall short of their lofty goals, and most fade away in the political workings of Washington. People become disenchanted and disengaged, politics continues to be a mess, and then it’s repeated with another candidate.
In the recent Iowa Presidential Caucus, Bernie Sanders came away with 84 percent of the Democratic youth vote, compared with 14 percent for Hillary Clinton. Politics of the Democrat nomination race aside, it is clear that there is a renewed youth movement surrounding the Sanders campaign. Once again, they see hope and idealism in the self-avowed democratic socialist. But where was this enthusiasm and turnout in the 2010 midterm elections, or in the 2014 midterm elections?
Getting behind your favorite presidential candidate is great. But all that doesn’t matter if your candidate wins and is left with their party in a minority status in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Youth voting got President Obama elected, but youth disengagement left him dealing with an uncooperative Republican majority in Congress for the majority of his two terms.
The problem is that we lose power when we disengage. When we remain silent, it only makes politics worse because the extremes of the political spectrum can make their voices heard. Democracy isn’t something you can just do once every presidential election. By its very nature, Democracy requires that everyone, especially the young in this country, should be voting in every election, be it a local election, state election or national election. Without consistent voting from citizens, our political system gets clogged with special interests, extreme views and complacency.
It doesn’t matter where you lean politically. The only way to make things better is to vote every chance you get, in every election you can.
Don’t like what your representative is doing? Call or email them and give them a piece of your mind.
Still don’t like what they’re doing? Vote them out of office.
Want to support a change to a law, an amendment or new law? Vote in the midterms because that’s often where your local and state elections put all the vote options for that.
Everything that you’ve ever hoped our political system would be can only be done through voting. That’s how our system works, and how it was designed by the Founding Fathers way back when only land owning white males could vote in most places.
With the deadline to register to vote in the Florida primaries at the doorstep (February 16th) and the Florida Presidential Primaries a month away (March 15th), now is the perfect time to get into voting if you haven’t already. Get registered. Vote in the primaries. Come November vote in the general election. Make your voice heard now, and make it heard again in every election after. Let’s make the voice of the young the loudest in the nation.
A helpful link to register to vote in Florida can be found here.
If you are on the UF campus, you can check out Chomp the Vote, who are more than happy to get you registered.