“You wouldn’t let your grandparents choose your playlist. Why are you going to let them pick your representatives who are going to determine your future?”
— Barack Obama
Youth in the U.S. are infamous for having a painfully low voter turnout rate, particularly when it comes to midterm elections. According to Census Bureau data, only 23 percent of young voters cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest turnout rate for that age group on record. With the single youngest median age of any state in the nation, this has especially alarming implications for the state of Utah come Nov. 6.
The most common reasons given by young people for feeling disinclined to vote include not being able to relate to the candidates, feeling like their vote doesn’t matter, not having the time, or simply not knowing enough about the various candidates and measures included on the ballot to make informed decisions.
The pattern here is cyclical. It’s understandable that becoming informed about and participating in elections is difficult to justify when you feel unimportant and underrepresented. However, not doing so only further perpetuates these dissuasive forces for each new election cycle.
In a state like Utah, where election races are remarkably noncompetitive and a single ideology tends to dominate the public discourse, it’s not difficult to imagine why young people possess a feeling of powerlessness in elections or are otherwise indifferent to electoral outcomes. It doesn’t feel worthwhile to take an interest when a certain result seems inevitable.
This problem is made worse by the fact that most of the major candidates who will appear on this election’s ballot — the Senate candidate for the Democrats and 3 of the 4 House candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans — were selected months ago at party conventions by delegates who hold views that are often considerably more extreme than the average Utah voter, and who tend to be of older age. When we served as state delegates during the 2016 election period, we discovered an obvious lack of youth participation in choosing party candidates for the general election. Whether young voters feel misrepresented on the ballot or are unhappy with the electoral system itself, the first step toward change is showing up.
There have been indicators since the 2016 election that younger Utahns don’t share the same degree of loyalty to the Republican Party as their older counterparts, and while our opportunity to pick our candidates for this election has come and gone, our chance to vote on them is at hand. We are not the generation of reticence. If millennials were half as eager to go to the polls as they are to comment on politics via social media, they could have a significant impact on the results of this election.
Perhaps more than ever before, Utah’s youth understand that the outcomes of this election will determine the course of the issues they care about most — whether it be gun control, reproductive rights, student-loan debt or marijuana regulations. Specifically, public debate over Proposition 2 within recent months has given them a sense for the types of policies that are directly at stake. Now, it’s up to them to do something about it.
The election process can be particularly overwhelming for young, inexperienced voters. Luckily, there are various nonpartisan resources and tools, such as TurboVote and BallotReady, designed to make becoming registered and informed a less arduous task. If you need a ride to your polling place, Uber and Lyft will be providing services to make transportation easy and affordable. If all you need is a little motivation, there are initiatives like #VoteTogether to make the overall voting experience more social and exciting.
Kiddos, you are officially out of excuses for withholding your vote. The future of Utah is depending on you making your voices heard on Election Day.
Isaac Pitcher and Cydney Emery are seniors majoring in economics at Westminster College, Salt Lake City.