As high school students, we are rapidly approaching eighteen years of age and will soon leave behind the compulsory school years. No longer will teachers and parents be on top of us demanding that we turn in our homework and pay attention in class. Their jobs will be done, and it will be up to us to take the lessons learned and apply them to the real world.
A significant milestone — high school graduation — signifies that we supposedly have the fundamental tools to function as adults in the real world. Up until now, adults made decisions that they thought were in our best interests. But when we turn eighteen, we can be a part of the decision-making process because we are given a very powerful tool: the right to vote. The ability to vote at age eighteen and to have a say in decisions that will impact our future is a right granted to us by the 26th Amendment. What is fascinating is that the voting age was changed from 21 to 18 less than fifty years ago in 1971.
According to US Census Bureau data for 2012 and 2014 every two years, seven million Americans turn eighteen and become eligible to vote. However, these newly-minted adults vote at a much lower rate than the general population.
Some states, such as California, allow people under the age of eighteen to pre-register to vote, so once they turn eighteen, their registration will automatically become active. In the state of South Carolina, we can only register at the age of seventeen if we will turn eighteen prior to the election date. Most students do not remember to register while in school, and once they are out of school and busy with their lives, with no one reminding or telling them to do what is important, many don’t ever register. As Senator Edward Kennedy said, “By the time they [young people] have turned 21…many young people are so far removed from the stimulation of the educational process that their interest in public affairs has waned. Some may be lost as voters for the rest of their lives.”
Recently, there has been a significant spike in interest from Gen Zers to vote. These young adults have come together and brought national attention to topics important to their generation such as gun control or climate change. These young people want to make sure that lawmakers are in tune with protecting our most precious resources: our fellow citizens and our planet. So as we turn eighteen, we can also help provide input into the process by casting our vote. But how do we begin? There isn’t a class which teaches us about voting - how to vote, who to vote for, what the people running for office stand for, what issues are being voted on, and perhaps most importantly, why should you care when adults will do what they want anyway?
I listen to conversations taking place in my household. Of course, I am biased because the opinions of the people that I love and respect weigh heavily on me. But I am very mindful of ‘their’ opinions and ‘my’ thoughts. I do pay keen attention to the chatter in the news and social media on a daily basis. After all, we are the generation that has greater access to information and has been exposed earlier to the information revolution via the Internet than any other previous generation.
In the past, young people have voted in the lowest numbers of any age group. Voting is a lifelong habit, and what better way to start this habit than now - a presidential election year that will have ramifications well-past our primary and secondary school years.
According to our Census Data, young people do not vote at high rates. Perhaps it’s because there is a lack of knowledge of what is involved in voting and the understanding of the issues at hand. However, our future is at stake. It is critical that we plug in and recognize the power we hold in our votes - our sheer numbers truly can influence decisions. So it is time for us to take control of our future by taking up our voting arms and electing those whom we think will represent our interests the best. If we do not care enough about our future to vote, then we should not expect others to take into consideration what we want for the future.
Author Cam Srivastava encourages members of the SDDS community to vote in the upcoming 2020 election.
“The 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xxvi.
History.com Editors. “The 26th Amendment.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 16 Feb. 2010, www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/the-26th-amendment.
“Voter Registration Age Requirements: USAGov.” Voter Registration Age Requirements | USAGov, www.usa.gov/voter-registration-age-requirements.
“Lowering the National Voting Age to 18.” Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, www.emkinstitute.org/resources/lowering-the-national-voting-age-to-18.
Gray, Gordon, et al. “The Politically Active Generations: Millennials, Gen Z Care About the Debt - and More.” AAF, 7 Feb. 2020, www.americanactionforum.org/insight/the-politically-active-generations-millennials-gen-z-care-about-the-debt-and-more/.