Make Voting Sexy Again

Make Voting Sexy Again

It seems like everywhere we look, we cannot get out of election season. Whether it’s municipal elections, provincial elections, federal elections, or the ongoing electoral circus that is our neighbour in the south, it seems like everyone is always days away from walking into vote.

The problem? We, as young people, don’t.

We don’t walk in to vote, or get absentee ballots. We don’t even register. It’s a problem everywhere: young people do not exercise their right to vote.

And it is, truly, a problem. 59% of people that are eligible to vote are between the ages of 18-45. In past elections, not even a quarter of us turned up at the polls. People don’t vote for a multitude of reasons: they don’t know how to register, they didn’t register in time, they didn’t declare a party affiliation, they can’t get off work, they don’t have ID, or the proper ID. It seems, at times, that elections are designed to be complicated, are designed to prevent people from being easily able to vote. However, the greater psychology is this: young people do not believe that their vote makes a difference. This psychology creates a terrible feedback loop: if young people don’t vote, their issues won’t be what the party in control will focus on. Parties respond to the people that show up to vote, and if young people don’t but older people do, parties in power won’t focus on the millennial vote and will instead focus on a voting base with incredibly different priorities and experiences to us. The bottom line is this: when young people don’t vote, we leave decisions that impact us, and who speaks for us, up to people twice our age.

This push for millennials to vote dawned with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. After the election, maps were released that showed what would have happened if people of only certain education, or race, or ages voted. For millennials the difference was staggering: of only people under 40 had voted, Hillary Clinton would have won 403 electoral votes. Now more than ever, people are recognizing the power of the millennial vote. After the Parkland shooting in February of this year, Parkland seniors created the #VoteThemOut campaign, pledging to get young people registered to vote in order to vote out NRA backed candidates. Musicians like Beyonce and G-Eazy have partnered with HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that uses concerts as easy ways to get young people registered and involved in American democracy.

In Alabama, the special senate election in 2017 between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore was seen as a “dry run” for the 2018 midterms to see if young people would get out to vote (spoiler, they did: young votes in Alabama supported Jones by a 20 percent margin). Celebrities like Will Ferrell and Oprah have gone door to door and campaigned for people to register to vote, especially young people. In a new poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics, 18-29 year olds in the US are more likely to vote in this year’s upcoming midterm election than in 2010 or 2014. It seems like the push for millennials to vote is working, that the movement has inspired people to at least register, so that the next election will be different so millennial voices and interests will take centre stage.

Here at home in Canada, we’re feeling the difference as well. During the BC election at the beginning of the year, voter turn out among people under 45 jumped 6%. The voter turnout in the Ontario provincial election was the highest it’s been in a decade. Canada’s federal turnout rate clocks in at 62%, higher than the US’ at 56%, and in our most recent federal election in 2015, voter turnout among people age 18-24 increased 18.3 points, from 38.8 percent in 2011 to 57.1. But we still have a long way to go. The recent Toronto municipal elections saw a sharp decline in voter turnout, from 60% in 2011 to 41% in 2018. The recent election right here in Kingston pushed for students to vote, but I have met only a handful that did. Canadians might not have the prescient momentum in getting millennials to vote as the US does, but as young people get inspired and actively involved in politics while watching our neighbours in the south, perhaps we’ll see the same movements spread to Canadian politics.

Today is election day in the US, and by the end of the day, we’ll see if the campaigns to get young people to vote have worked to mobilize young people. Early voting has surged among young people in states like Texas and Georgia, but issues with who will be allowed to vote at the polls because of citizenship, race,  identification, and gender have been in the news and could suppress the voice of young voters today. The best conclusion is this, courtesy of Rick Mercer, “If you’re between the age of 18 and 25 and you want to scare the hell out of the people that run this country, this time around do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all around the world are dying to do. Vote.”

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