Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a gloomy economy and the specter of climate change, our generation is facing an uncertain future because of today’s problems. Yet the voices and activism of young people on these issues are often belittled or suppressed by politicians. The president himself has repeatedly bashed and cast doubt on mail-in voting, the method by which students generally vote. As a consequence, public policy, like the federal response to the pandemic, has largely ignored college students.
For our issues to be taken seriously in spite of these obstacles, one of the most important things to do is ensure our votes are counted this November.
If young people voted in the same numbers as previous generations, it would reshape the electorate and shift the focus toward the issues we care about, like climate change and the cost of college. That’s what happened in the 2018 midterms – youth turnout doubled, ushering into office the youngest and most diverse group of federal legislators in history. We have a responsibility to keep speaking out and participating to effect long-lasting change. And this November, that means turning out to vote. Each and every vote has never been more important – and almost all of us are back home to be able to do it.
Almost all of the existential problems our generation will inherit will have been handed to us by policymakers from previous generations. None of us had a say in demolishing the economy in 2008 or allowing the climate to heat up. Even now, young people barely merit a second thought in policy decisions. The federal pandemic response, for example, deliberately excluded college students from direct cash payouts. We will be responsible for fixing those problems eventually – and even if we cannot make them disappear right away, we can still slow their advance by showing up at the polls.
Our vote is even more critical because of the unique stakes of this election. The trite refrain of “this is the most important election of our lifetime” happens to be true this year. The Trump administration has actively damaged democracy at home and abroad. At this moment, he is attempting to make the November election unfree and unfair by sabotaging the United States Postal Service – cutting funding, dismantling ballot-sorting machines and increasing delivery times. These steps constitute an active attempt to reduce the number of ballots counted this year – and the best way to push back against that is to turn out in historic numbers. Put simply, turning out this year may be the only way we can vote in free and fair elections in 2024.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought both new challenges and opportunities for our generation to vote. While college students typically vote by mail because they’re on campus, it may be easier to cast a ballot this election cycle while students are living at their childhood homes or permanent residences. Being at home makes it easier for many students to receive and send their mail-in ballot or show up at a polling place if they feel comfortable and safe turning out in person. Going to the polls or mailing in your ballot with parents, family or friends can lessen the difficulty or boredom associated with casting a vote and help remind you to request your ballot and cast your vote amid schoolwork and classes. There’s no excuse this year.
Though some aspects of the virtual semester make it easier for students to vote, others can be seriously detrimental. Actually registering to vote can be a barrier for many students. In states like Louisiana, those wanting to register to vote have to print out forms and documents, which could post a barrier to people without printers. In some states like Georgia and Wisconsin, you need several forms of identification, which can be a barrier for someone who maybe never got their driver’s license. All of these may seem trivial but are just one more step between wanting to vote and actually casting a ballot.
In this election, for most students, voting will only take a few minutes in between the activism necessary to enact systemic change. Yet the upsides of doing so are tremendous, even if you live in a solidly Democratic or Republican state. Do some research on your jurisdiction’s voter registration rules and down-ballot races. Find out where your nearest polling place or ballot drop box is. And vote.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing editor Parth Kotak, managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, culture editor Anna Boone, sports editor Emily Maise and design editor Olivia Columbus.
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