Mike Drop: We must facilitate youth civic engagement, even from home!

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Hi, everyone. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and have adjusted well to these strange, unprecedented times. Today I’d like to discuss something that doesn’t sit right with me (besides the coronavirus outbreak). Young people, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 24, make up our largest voting bloc. So naturally, they make up the majority rule in our elections, right? 

Well, disturbingly enough, we actually turn out at the lowest rates of any age group, according to the United States Elections Project’s voter turnout demographics. We’re all members of this voting bloc that’s turning out at criminally low rates, so it’s imperative that we reverse this trend and establish a routine of civic engagement immediately.

I’ve had this nerdy enthusiasm for civic engagement dating back to sixth grade, when I handed out sheets to my classmates listing every major presidential candidate. As a member of UConnPIRG, I’ve also registered students to vote on-campus for the last couple of years. I guess some things just don’t change, much like the importance of voting in our elections! Youth civic engagement has been hampered by restrictive policies, misinformation and a general lack of amenities and services. My ultimate goal is to discuss ways to strengthen our democracy so that we all can perform our civic duty.

Before we go out and vote, we must ensure we’re able to do so. Unfortunately, this might not be the case for all of us, because restrictive voter ID legislation has suppressed our voting rights. According to Wendy Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 of our 50 states request or require voters to show a form of ID, and 10 of these states have strict regulations. It’s simply disgraceful that we allow this to happen, especially because, as the American Civil Liberties Union argues, these voter ID laws are inherently biased against low-income people, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly and the disabled. Plus, widespread concerns of intentional voter fraud aren’t well-founded. We must overhaul these laws that deprive many Americans of their right to vote, lead to lower turnout across the board and fly in the face of our supposed democracy.

Once we ensure our ability to vote, it’s time to look into the people up for our vote. But it can be difficult to conduct our due research effectively. After all, we’re not well-informed about our political candidates and their policy stances on critical issues. The info and perspectives presented by mainstream media are often distorted by big money and sensationalism, so it can be difficult to trust what you read and hear, or to find unbiased sources. That’s why we should follow the League of Women Voters’ seven-step process of judging a candidate, which is to decide what you’re looking for in a candidate, find out about the candidates, gather materials about the candidates, evaluate candidates’ stances on issues, learn about the candidates’ leadership abilities, learn how other people view the candidates, and sort it all out, while seeing through distortion techniques. Once we objectively and definitively know that candidates are generally sound and addressing our needs, we’ll feel more invested in the process.

But this all leads into the biggest reason why youth voter turnout isn’t nearly as high as it should be, which is that our universities and local communities haven’t done enough to institutionalize civic engagement. For example, why not increase the number of polling locations on college campuses and nationwide? What about providing public transportation to the polls, and making Election Day a national holiday? Where are the educational materials for voters? What about automatic voter registration, and allowing us to mail in our votes, especially now? Just think of your home as yet another polling location! Ask yourself these questions and demand your local legislators enact such provisions. And in short, I ask you all to vote in every election and help others follow suit.

Ultimately, we must demand better of society and instill an environment that motivates us all to fulfill our civic duty. Again, we can’t allow restrictive policies, misinformation or a general lack of amenities and services to obstruct our ability to engage in democracy. Remember that your vote is your voice. So let’s go make our voices heard, and then when we outpace our elders in voter turnout, we can cry out “Ok, boomer” in the most empowering way imaginable! Thanks for listening.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.

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Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.i.katz@uconn.edu.

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