The change we need depends on young people becoming young voters

By Suzy Smith, executive director, Let America Vote

Young. People. Must. Vote.

How do you think our country would be different if young Americans’ influence in the political process matched their numbers and their passion? I can imagine it: student loan debt tackled; a real commitment to sustainable, renewable energy; fair, frictionless access to voting; and, of course, common sense laws to prevent gun violence.

That all sounds great to me. And it’s not just me. More young Americans are speaking out and getting involved in politics than ever before. We’ve seen it in real, concrete ways from Washington to Parkland and beyond. Our time is coming.

Let America Vote Executive Director Suzy Smith

But, there’s just one key piece we’re missing to the political puzzle: turning out and voting.

In the 2014 midterm elections, 58 percent of all young registered voters failed to vote — the lowest recorded rate of youth voter turnout in the past 40 years. That absence left up to 12.4 million ballots uncast. Imagine what 12.4 million Americans could accomplish as a voting bloc.

A whole lot.

People engage with politics when they feel the effect of politics on their lives. That’s undeniably what’s happening today, as young people see politicians unable to address gun violence, unwilling to craft humane immigration policy and unsympathetic to the challenges in obtaining affordable education and health care. All too often, young voters see politicians actively trying to remove them from the democratic process, to ignore their concerns by silencing their voice.

The next midterm election is coming up in just over two months. We have a new chance to prove to our fellow Americans that young people want a say in what happens in our country — that we have a vision for what our country could be and that we’re willing to turn out and vote for it.

Here at Let America Vote, we’re helping any way we can. We’ve teamed up with mayors in 16 cities across the country on Cap, Gown, Vote!, a youth voter registration initiative that provides a simple tool high school students can use to register their classmates. Our partner-mayors will hold events throughout the month of September to highlight Cap, Gown, Vote!and recruit student ambassadors.

We’re working for automatic voter registration in Nevada and against voter-suppression laws specifically designed to disenfranchise students in New Hampshire.

We’re knocking doors and making calls to identify and turn out voters — more than 200,000 doors this year already— and we’re moving them up our ladder of engagement every way we can. We’re crushing it on Twitter and Instagram.

New data suggests a big uptick in young-voter engagement: A recent poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found 37 percent of Americans under 30 would “definitely” vote in 2018. That’s compared to 23 percent who said the same in 2014, and 31 percent in 2010.

It’s up to all of us now to seize the opportunity. Officeholders, candidates, campaigns, activists, family, friends and neighbors all must do their part to get young people registered and ensure their participation this November.

Okay, let’s get to work!