On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.
For better or for worse, being born into the millennial generation carries several stigmas about my interests and behaviors. As a member of the population born between 1980 and the early 2000s, I’m expected to be more passionate about changing the world than previous generations, not to mention more self-obsessed, narcissistic and entitled. Lost somewhere in a sea of Instagram filters and Twitter updates, I’m happy to share what I think about foreign affairs or patriarchal systems with my friends on social media, but it’s unlikely that I’ll vote. I pause to ask: how did that jump happen?
In my opinion, the most cringe-worthy attribute of my generation is our predictably low voter turnout rates. In the recent midterm elections, only 21.3 percent of millennials voted, and according to the International Business Times, this was right in line with our previous midterm voting habits. An article in The Week, articulately phrased the question I had long been toiling over, asking, “why do millennials get enthusiastic about engaging in political discussion on social media, but not so enthused about expressing their views in the voting booth, with less than one in four showing up on voting day?”
Our desire to have our views represented has lost its glory in the most fundamental of places: the voting booth. In a venue where our beliefs and values have a real platform to be heard by decision makers, we’re reluctant to put pen on paper. As a result, we end up passively electing representatives, who may or may not have our interests in mind, simply by opting out of the process. It’s important that we tackle this question: What is creating such a disincentive for millennials to participate at the polls?
There have been several attempts to justify low turnout rates among my generation that, while notable and important, do not seem to get at the heart of the problem. For example, lack of information, both about political issues and how the voting process works, has been cited. Whether this responsibility lies in the hands of local governments, universities or politicians themselves is up for debate. Another challenge millennials face can be access to polls, or voter ID and registration laws that make voting difficult during times of transition, where one may be relocating for a new, temporary job, or off to gain a degree out of state. Absentee ballots, do not have the best of reputations, and require pre-planning which, again, may be difficult during times of transition.
During this month’s elections, MTV promoted a #WhyIDidntVote hashtag. While the reasons ranged, apathy and frustration towards politicians and the current state of Washington were important players. At some point, we need to ask ourselves who is ultimately responsible for our state of affairs, and what can be done to turn things around.
In my reading, there is a disturbing trend of wanting to blame others for why we are not stepping up when it counts. While I believe candidates need to work harder to connect with millennials, it’s not their responsibly to request an absentee ballot for me. And while the process of voting away from home can be confusing, it is not up to someone else to do the research for me. Where there are questions, there are resources. Where there is a will, there is a way.
I believe this will was evidenced in 2010, when we saw President Barak Obama run against Senator John McCain. In that election, 51% of millennials turned out to vote, excited about the possibility of change and reform. While you may or may not be enticed to vote based on how these ideals may look today in D.C., elections, at their core, are chances to get routinely excited about change and reform. These words are not simply attributable to a campaign slogan, but real actions that we are in charge of ensuring for the better every election season.
It is disheartening that we take the right to vote so lightly. Less than 100 years ago, the women’s suffragemovement took place, during which time the actions of many brave women ensured something for future generations that in their minds was so powerful that it brought them through both physical and mental torture. In 1965, less than 50 years ago, the Voting Rights Act was passed. Not to mention public outcry during the Vietnam War, which inspired the voting age to be lowered from 21 to 18. What these activists saw, and what many around the world today crave, was the ability to be represented by democratic governments. This is something so powerful that, borrowing words from Elite Daily, “There are people around the world who are literally willing to fight and die for the right to vote.” How can this not move us to reconsider the value of what we have?
In the future, I hope that we can start to turn around some of the negative connotations that come with being a millennial. I hope that our love of technology can be used for good, as a stepping stone for information collection and thoughtful reflection. I hope that our narcissism can transform into loving our neighbor and our communities as much as we love ourselves at times. As we move forward, let us encourage one another to think seriously about the legacy we're leaving behind, and the representation that we are actively or passively sending to halls of power. If we do come to the voting both together, we will be a collective voice too strong to ignore.
-Jenny Hyde is a recent alumna of Gordon College, where she received her degree in International Affairs. She is currently living and working in Washington, D.C. Photo via Huffingtonpost.com