The right to vote is the single most important individual power we wield as citizens. In 2004, the 18-29 year old electorate cast 20.1 million votes. This rivaled that of the much-coveted senior vote, whose electorate cast 22.3 million votes in the same election.
There are currently 46 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in the United States — at 46 million, this millennial generation is the largest generation in U.S. history, and represents more than 20 percent of the electorate.
Political scandals, unpopular wars, and crises such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have shaped this generation’s world-view, and it has witnessed first-hand how choosing a leader means deciding the direction our future. Despite this, in the 2008 election, approximately 21 million citizens under the age of 30 did not vote, rendering 21 million citizens voiceless in determining the future of this country.
Young voters still do not seem to understand that not casting a vote means not having an influence. Low voter participation by people age 18-29 creates the opportunity for older (and more involved) voters to have a disproportionate influence on decision-making and it decreases government’s understanding and response to real needs of young citizens, thus creating a vicious cycle for a discouraged and under-served segment of the population.
I have witnessed a lack of civic involvement by young voters while interning for three years at both the city and county levels of government, and I have seen how their unique needs are left out of the decision-making process. For example, during the summer of 2011, a local city council was considering the construction of a new cell phone tower. Senior residents showed up before the council and opposed the idea. Arguably, voters between the ages of 18-29 (who use cell phones more often) would have supported the installation of the tower. However, because they were absent, their interests were not represented to the council, and it was swayed by the representative voice. In this instance, young residents (and voters) ultimately lost out on something that would have benefitted them because of lack of involvement.
We are 46 million strong and we have the potential to affect significant change. We need to vote on issues that most affect us (job creation, college affordability and healthcare), or be content to have others make misguided decisions for us. Either way, the choice is still ours.
Macomb County Board of Commissioners intern