EDITORIAL: Young people must vote

In+this+June+4%2C+2018+photo%2C+Cameron+Kasky%2C+center%2C+speaks+during+a+news+confrence+in+Parkland%2C+Fla.%2C+announcing+a+multistate+bus+tour+to+get+young+people+educated%2C+registered+and+motivated+to+vote.

Wilfredo Lee | Associated Press

In this June 4, 2018 photo, Cameron Kasky, center, speaks during a news confrence in Parkland, Fla., announcing a multistate bus tour to get young people educated, registered and motivated to vote.

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As the 2020 Democratic primary kicks off this week with the general election on the horizon, voter participation in the United States remains remarkably low; however, it is possible more young people will vote this year than in any year prior.

Just over 55% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 presidential election in the U.S., slightly up from 54.9% in 2012, while countries such as Belgium, Sweden and Denmark achieve voter turnouts of more than 80% and Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Norway and several others more than 70%.

The percentage of young voters who participated in the 2016 election is slightly lower, at 50%, which is just 1% higher than in 2012. The highest voter turnout for 18-29 year-old Americans in recent presidential elections is just 52% in 2008.

The 2018 midterm elections offered a glimpse of hope for the condition of American democracy though, producing the highest voter turnout in a midterm election in 100 years. Just over 50% of eligible voters made it to the polls. While participation in West Virginia increased over 10% from 2014, its turnout of just over 42% in 2018 still ranked 49th in the country.

Although older voters remain much more likely to participate in elections, with 66% of voters aged 65 and older participating in 2018, the midterms also saw the national youth voter turnout, ages 18-29, increase to 36%, up from 20% in 2014. This remarkable increase in voter participation by young people serves as a continuation of the youth’s ever increasing political interests and awareness, but it is not good enough.

In 2018, there were roughly 54 million Americans aged 18-29, accounting for just over 16% of the country’s population, and just over 52 million people over the age of 65, accounting for about 16% of the population. There is no reason why two separate age groups making up nearly identical portions of the country’s population ought to have such a drastic difference in political participation and influence.

One could even argue young people should be more inclined to political involvement because only we will deal with the consequences of our collective action moving forward. It would be unjust if we did not have a seat at the table when making important and influential decisions.

To claim our seat at the table and ensure that our future remains in our hands, we must inform ourselves about the country we live in, the world we live in, and exercise our most explicit political power.

As Abbie Hoffman, co-founder of the Youth International Party and proponent of the Flower Power movement during the 1960s, said, “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”

While participating in political discussions and elections may in moments be a stressful and exhausting process, for the sake of our democracy, we as young people must be leaders in promoting activism and understanding. If we are not organizing and educating ourselves, exercising our most valuable rights and making our voices heard, the most important and influential decisions of our lifetimes will be made without us.

Historically, young people have proven to be brave, bold and brilliant leaders in communities across the world, and America is no exception. If we wish to maintain and expand the power and influence of the American youth, increasing voter turnout should be an utmost priority.

The deadline to register to vote in the 2020 primary in West Virginia is April 21. Seventeen-year-olds who will turn eighteen before the general election in November may also register and participate in both the May 12 primary and the Nov. 3 general.

West Virginia residents may register to vote online at https://ovr.sos.wv.gov/Register/Landing#Qualifications, by mail or in person at a County Clerk’s office.