Talk about the issues they care about.
Listen to their concerns.
Make it convenient.
The next generation of voters is currently making its way through the later grades of high school. And chances are, they will join their slightly older fellow citizens by staying away from the polls in large numbers.
Voter turnout among the 18-24 age group is traditionally the lowest of all age groups in the U.S. Some blame the fact that young people are disenfranchised. Some blame it on their transient nature at that age, moving from their parents' homes to college to where jobs and relationships eventually take them. Some say they just don’t care.
But what's really behind those low turnout numbers?
On Monday, we asked a group of about 40 intelligent, motivated high school students at the Carey Institute in Rensselaerville who are on the cusp of voting what they would say to their fellow students to persuade them to go to the polls.
First, they came up with reasons why they should be voting.
Voting gives us the right to complain about how things are. Sure, you can complain even if you don't vote. But if you participate, if you attempt to change things through the act of voting, you’ve given yourself a vested stake in what happens.
If we don't vote, the politicians won't take us and our issues seriously. Politicians don't waste their time addressing issues that don't translate into votes. Until young people start showing up at the polls in larger numbers, they know their issues will continue to be ignored in favor of issues raised by people who do vote.
Voting promotes more informed citizens. If you're planning to vote, you're more likely to educate yourself about the issues. Who wants to vote just to say you did it? If you're going to make the effort to vote, make it worth your while by picking candidates and supporting issues that will make a difference in your life.
So why don't they vote?
It's inconvenient. That's a common excuse, no matter the age. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in New York, and they’re usually located in convenient locations like schools and fire stations. Voting only takes about 15 minutes out of those 15 hours. It’s not really inconvenient. So make the time. But if voters are using inconvenience as an excuse, government leaders should find ways to make it less so. Allow voters to vote over several days, make registration easier and remove impediments to filing absentee ballots, and you might make that excuse even more inadequate.
We're only single-issue voters, and therefore the politicians aren't interested in us. But no issue takes place in a vacuum. Take the college loan crisis, an issue that concerns many young people. It isn't limited to college students and recent grads. It ripples throughout the entire economy, in that it limits young people from making major purchases (cars, houses), traveling, or starting families.When they're stuck paying interest on loans, they're not helping the economy, and that affects everyone, not just young people.
If no one else votes, why should I? Phrase the question another way. If I'm voting, why aren't you? Participation is just as contagious as ambivalence.
My vote doesn't matter. Completely untrue. Many elections, especially the local ones on the ballot today, are decided by just a handful of votes, sometimes even one. And every person who stays home makes your vote count more. Your vote does matter.
These kids aren't even legally allowed to vote, yet they already know what they need to do to get themselves to the polls and what might be standing in their way. It concerns them. It intrigues them. It motivates them.
Today, we all should be asking ourselves the same tough questions.
What reasons do we have for voting, and if we're not going to vote, what will it take to get ourselves there?