“Democracy continues with or without you,” emphasized former United States First Lady Michelle Obama as she passionately stressed
the importance of turning up on election day to a crowd of potential voters in September. Pop singer Taylor Swift took to Instagram
to encourage her 112 million followers to educate themselves about general election candidates and to register to vote.
Celebrities are not the only ones concerned with current political participation and the fate of the Nov. 6 elections. Last Saturday, protesters gathered
on the steps of the Supreme Court in response to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, who, despite claims of sexual assault, was just given a lifetime appointment to the most influential bench in the country. Among the many signs expressing support for survivors, a new slogan with a less-than-subtle promise to the current Republican administration stood out: “November is coming.”
Casting a vote to address political concerns is a privilege not granted to citizens in every country around the world. Yet, in spite of the opportunity to direct the political process of their country, less than 37 percent of eligible voters
in the U.S. turned out for the last midterm elections in 2014. If the democratic notion of a government answerable to the people is central to the ethos of the United States, why is this not reflected in voter participation?
For starters, not everyone has an equal opportunity to vote. In 2013, the Supreme Court dismantled a central part of the 1965 Voters Right Act
, granting states the ability to modify voting procedures without federal oversight. The aftermath was an almost immediate push for new restrictive measures such as limiting early voting, same-day registration and voter identification requirements. Such barriers to voting disproportionately impact marginalized groups — such as low income groups, people of colour and Native Americans — but this does not fully encompass the reasoning behind poor voter turnout.
The age group least likely to show up
to vote are those aged 18-29, a generation that makes their voices heard three times less than those older than 60. The transitory nature of the existence of young people, one often marked by a lack of settled careers or families, [diminishes the perceived impact] (https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2014/10/29/why-young-people-dont-vote) of political decisions on their lives, reducing their turnout at polls.
However, this perception needs to change; too much is at stake for young people to sit back and accept the status quo. With all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs and about a third in the Senate, the outcome on the midterm elections will have a direct impact on everything from healthcare to immigration and LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. The younger generation will be the ones who face the consequences of a warming globe and neglected environment. As the [most diverse generation in American history] (https://www.brookings.edu/research/millennials/), it is also in our interest to push for more progressive policies acknowledging and accepting difference.
In an international community like NYU Abu Dhabi, U.S. Americans should also recognize that domestic politics aren’t isolated within our borders. For better or worse, U.S. politics influences the international system and when we vote, we must consider the implications on our peers from other countries.
Although flawed, the U.S. democratic system is still functioning. Those who vote determine the direction of the country, so if young people want candidates and policies representative of their views, it is on us to make sure our voices are heard. One vote may feel insignificant, but if our generation puts in the effort to show up to polling stations and send in absentee ballots, the results can be consequential. Disillusionment with the current trajectory is not a reason to ignore politics, rather it is more of an impetus to get involved and push for change.
The Trump Administration’s moves to undo environmental protections have begun. Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation is over. People on both sides feel disheartened and unheard. But Nov. 6th is still ahead.
Caroline Sullivan is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com