Tuning In & Turning Out

Written by Dana Sutton and Seung Won Lee, Common Cause interns on September 22, 2016

From the Occupy Movement to Black Lives Matter and the strong support thousands of us gave to Sen. Bernie Sanders, it’s clear that the Millennial generation is tuned into politics.

So why don’t Millennials vote? Our generation is now the largest group of voting age Americans but the smallest group in terms of voter turnout.

A Common Cause report released this week, “Tuning In and Turning Out,” examines that question in detail. And on Tuesday, Common Cause convened a conversation at George Washington University to explore Millennial voting with a diverse panel of activists and students at GWU and four other colleges.

The report and the GWU discussion, led by author Ari Berman, sounded two major themes: young voters are discouraged, even cynical, about our political system and elected officials in many states have passed laws that prevent us from voting.

First, we have to acknowledge that many young people choose not to vote. This is not because they don’t care about the issues; they just don’t feel like our votes matter.

Millennials who pay attention see the gridlock in Congress, and the way big money affects politics, and they notice that many politicians seem to care more about themselves than voters’ interests. And if politicians don’t listen to voters anyway, why vote?

While voters are understandably discouraged, the problem of low turnout is more complicated. Recently, many states have enacted voting restrictions that can keep even enthusiastic young people from the polls.

These laws include restrictions on early voting and registration, along with strict voter ID laws. Of 15 states with strict ID laws, seven don’t accept student IDs, and 12 refuse out-of-state IDs. Six states won’t take any form of student ID or out-of-state ID, so out-of-state students have to find new identification to vote.

There are two principal ways we can improve turnout: by showing young people that voting is worthwhile, and by ensuring that they have access to the polls.

To convince young people that their votes matter, we should put power in their hands. That means campaign finance and democracy reform. Then we should make voting easier, not more difficult. Eliminating voter ID laws and implementing measures to streamline voter registration will help more people become involved.

In a democracy everyone’s voice should be heard, and politicians and citizens of all generations should work for a more inclusive political system. Millennials need to recognize that we have a tremendous amount of political power, but we have to use it; that means tuning in and turning out to vote.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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