To Increase the Youth Vote, Address the Why and the How
By Bita Mosallai
Young people don’t turn out for elections. Young people don’t care about their government. Our government doesn’t need young people’s voices. These are some statements that have been continuously pushed down our throats since our first government class in high school, before we could even understand what it meant to vote. Some young people have come to believe our voices do not matter because older politicians do not pay attention to the issues we are concerned about.
As a first-time voter who was heavily involved in a youth voter registration drive last year, I believe two approaches must be taken to strengthen the youth vote. First, we need to address the larger systematic issue of why young people don’t think voting is important and, second, we must provide guidance to young voters through peer-to peer-contact about how to vote.
This new generation—Generation Z—is more outspoken and politically conscious than ever. Yet as I continually speak with people my age, there is still frustration with our government. Young people argue their voice is not actually heard in the political process or that they feel powerless with how our government is set up. I tell them: Why can’t the answer be to change our government? If you don't like a politician, vote them out. If you wish to see a bill on the policy agenda, vote for the politician who you know will support that bill. One of the most important ways we can create change and a better future for ourselves is by voting, because that's how our government has been set up. We need to provide appropriate support to young voters through civic education and in-person guidance, so they can get to a place where that frustration turns into productive action.
I’ve met young people that have devoted their entire life to civic engagement and activism, but I’ve also met people who didn’t care enough to vote in a general election. But if you’ve spoken to any young person, you know that every single one of us has a belief we are passionate about. Now, not every single person is using their vote to act on their beliefs, which is problematic because voting is ultimately how our representatives are elected. We need to make youth see why voting matters to them; they need to see they are not just voting for the President, they are voting for Congress, governors, important ballot measures, state judicial candidates, etc. They need to see that protesting and pressuring politicians through other methods is effective, but ultimately, they need someone in office that aligns with their views because other methods beyond voting can only do so much.
While guiding youth on why voting is important, the how also matters. Working on a youth voter registration drive last year with the Student PIRGs helped me realize that the best way to support youth voters was by validating the inevitable challenges they will face. Voting is complicated, even though older and more experienced people, as well as elected officials, make it out to be something as easy as filling out a form. For young people voting can be new and intimidating, with rules, deadlines, and many guidelines in place for specific states. Last year, I recognized that along with many young people being newly eligible to vote, voting by mail was a new concept for even experienced voters, so people needed assistance more than ever. Supporting young people through the process, rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves, also motivates young people to continue voting in the future.
Support becomes even more important when youth encounter all the information out there about politics and elections. I don’t believe that there is not enough accessible information; I believe there is too much information and resources, so voting becomes overwhelming. Simply googling how to sign up for a vote by mail ballot in Arizona took me through five different voter registration sites. All these different resources can be incredibly helpful if curated well, but they may intimidate voters further, and having one single voter registration tool and sticking with it could be one key to not confusing first-time voters.
While we work to streamline resources, first-time voters can benefit from in-person guidance. One of the best ways to make the process easier is by enlisting the help of knowledgeable people who can answer questions. In particular, having other young people who are willing to answer questions can be even more effective—peer-to-peer contact is powerful. I have heard stories from friends and acquaintances who recalled how they got far through the process of registering to vote or requesting a ballot, but didn’t complete an easy step or missed a deadline. But the biggest problem is that they never reached out for help. We need to support our peers if we want them to contribute their much-needed voices.
Voting is not this easy process where you just check the box for President. There are complex voting laws, research you have to do to become an informed citizen, and then you have to do the work to keep elected officials accountable. The process can be overwhelming, but if we wish to construct our ideal government, we need to contribute our voice. If we wish to see a future where the youth vote is robust, we need to provide additional support to young voters and convince them voting is the most effective way of creating change. Young people won’t vote unless they believe their voices are valuable, and they may give in to defeat unless we are out there to help them and remind them there are people watching and waiting for us to give up.
Bita Mosallai is a junior at the University of Arizona. She works with the Student PIRG on civic engagement, food insecurity, and environmental efforts. She aims to combine her passions of education and government in her future career.