As Americans, one of the most precious freedoms we have is the ability to vote. However, only half of Americans actually vote in elections. With the 2019 general elections having taken place this past week, and with the next presidential elections looming, the importance of making your voice heard and your opinions known through votes can’t be stressed enough.
Voting is an integral part of American democratic society. Americans are exposed to and taught to appreciate voting from a young age. Voting occurs not only in federal, state, and local government, but also in schools. Any club you can think of that requires officers, such as student government or National Honor Society, inevitably requires voting. Students vote on whether they want their chemistry test on Friday or Monday; they vote on what game they want to play in gym class; they vote on what dessert should be served at their spaghetti dinner fundraiser. The process of nominations and voting is ingrained in the brains of children during their most fundamental years of education and is touched upon throughout their lives. So why is it that so many Americans lose interest in voting as adults?
In the 2016 presidential elections, 61.3% of adults eligible to vote actually went to the polls. The 2018 midterm elections saw an even lower voter turnout, with only 49.3% of eligible adults voting. Research shows that those who do not vote tend to be younger, have less income and belong to minority groups. Young voters also tend to support such policies as wealth distribution and expanded welfare and healthcare programs. Registration problems related to past criminal convictions can also inhibit voting. Some of my classmates believe that their vote won’t matter.
No matter how old non-voters are, the primary reason they don’t vote is because they choose not to. In my opinion, to choose not to vote is to go against the democratic principles our country is founded upon. Throughout history, the one thing any person, whether Democrat or Republican, can agree on is the necessity for the consent of the governed, and voting is that consent. Furthermore, there are many people in many countries who do not have the freedoms that we Americans possess.
One hundred years ago, American women could not vote. Native Americans were not given voting rights until 1924, and residents of Washington, D.C., couldn’t vote until 1961. African-American men were granted suffrage in 1870, but Jim Crow laws suppressed their voting rights for decades. The right of African-Americans to vote was not truly protected until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protected voting for racial minorities. By voting today, Americans are not only voicing their opinions, but they are honoring the memory of those who spent years campaigning for suffrage.
Data that show that most people ages 18 to 24 do not take part in elections is particularly troubling. Young voters made up more than 50% of the eligible voting population in 2016, but most of them did not vote. Issues such as college debt and the housing and job markets are issues that affect almost every American in this age group, and data also show that Americans in this age group were hit hardest by the Great Recession of 2008.
While young people believe their voices do not matter, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be voicing those opinions. In a decade or two, people born in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s will make up the majority of the adult population of the United States. People in this age group, like myself, deserve to have a say in their own futures.
In November 2020, I will be two months away from turning 18, and will not be able to vote for the next president. However, thousands of people in my age demographic around the country will be. We are living in one of the most politically divided periods in American history. If you read the news, as I do, it can seem like Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything.
I cannot stress enough the importance of voting in elections and expressing your opinions. In today’s America, it’s more important than ever.
Kate Morano is a junior at Morris Central School. This is her Teen Talk debut. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.