By Quintez Brown —
A week ago, our nation celebrated its 6th annual National Voter Registration Day. The national holiday, celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of September, aims to emphasize the importance of voting, and registering to vote.
In 2016 over 750,000 voters registered on National Voter Registration Day across all 50 states. That same year, U of L was recognized by national organizations as a voter-friendly campus for our efforts and events that encourage young people to register and vote.
Despite 2016 being a historical election cycle, voter turnout in America was still low, especially among young people. According to the US Census Bureau, only 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population reported voting. Citizens 65 years and older reported higher turnout (70.9 percent) than 45- to 64-year-olds (66.6 percent), 30- to 44-year-olds (58.7 percent) and 18- to 29-year-olds (46.1 percent).
Turnout is even worse during midterm elections. According to The New York Times, 18 percent of college students voted in 2014 midterms, and 37 percent of the whole eligible population. Young people are the largest voting cohort in the nation but are voting the least. That needs to change!
Dewey Clayton is a political science professor at U of L.
“A lot of young people often think that their vote doesn’t count … individually it may not, but collectively, students can have a lot of power,” Clayton said.
Generation X-ers, millennials, and post-millennials are the largest voting cohort in the U.S. today. A lot of the policies that are passed in Congress can have tremendous impacts on us, such as school safety legislation, but if we were to collectively come together and mobilize political power, WE would have a tremendous impact on the policies that are passed and implemented.
Along with the idea that their vote doesn’t count, young people may also choose not to vote because they want to “protest the system.”
Jasmine Farrier, chair of Political Science department, said this is an ineffective way to protest.
“This type of protest is hard for politicians to hear. They are more likely to listen to the people who put them in office, not the ones who stayed home,” Farrier said.
However, individual motivations are not the only reason young people are voting. Registration policies and deadlines also create a barrier for young people, particularly college students, to vote.
Some states require Voter IDs, absentee ballots, and have registration deadlines many weeks before the actual election.
There are states that ease this process through no-excuse early voting, statewide mail-in ballots, and allowing voter registration up to the day of the election, but not many, and not Kentucky.
Clayton said voter ID regulations can particularly affect college students and the nominal cost of getting a card is enough to deter many.
“If you’re a college student and it’s going to cost $5-10 to do that, and you’re thinking ‘I can take this last $5-10 for a meal,’ that’s an easy choice to make,” he said.
Although states have barriers that make it difficult for young people to vote, it’s also the responsibility of the voter to become more politically educated and engaged.
Learn about your state’s policies. Learn about the different political parties and their priorities. Learn how candidates’ stances on policies can affect your daily life. The midterm elections are especially important because the lower young voter turnout means our voices aren’t being heard.
States, political parties, candidates, and voters should all be looking for ways to increase voter turnout and engagement.
November 6 is around the corner. We want politicians in office that truly represent their constituents and their needs. We have to vote. It’s the most powerful tool in our democracy.
Here are facts sheets that will help college students in KY get to the polls:
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal