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Throwing Shade, Not Light, on Youth Voting

I'm always impressed not by how few, but by how many young people manage to cast a ballot given how vigorously others try to stop them

Students participate in a protest against gun violence February 21, 2018 outside the White House in Washington, DC.

Students participate in a protest against gun violence February 21, 2018 outside the White House in Washington, DC. Hundreds of students from a number of Maryland and DC schools walked out of their classrooms and made a trip to the U.S. Capitol and the White House to call for gun legislation, one week after 17 were killed in the latest mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It’s the summer before midterm elections, and the political forecast is already promising heavy showers of skepticism about young voters.

The seasonal downpour is especially important this year because, for the first time, 18-35-year-old "millennials"—and their even younger counterparts, “generation z”—will be America’s single largest voting block with power to swing the result if they actually turn out to cast a ballot. The perennial question is, will they?

I hosted a discussion this week for Free Speech TV that gave me every reason to think the answer might be yes. Energy and enthusiasm are up; whether it’s guns or debts or jobs or just that racist, sexist Trump, there’s certainly no shortage of motivation.

28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an organizer for Bernie in the Bronx, said, “People like me aren’t supposed to run for Congress”; but she’s just the sort who gets people excited. She’s mounting a 100% volunteer, no corporate money drive to trigger the first primary in her district in fourteen years, and if her guts and gusto translate into signatures, she’ll do it.

Young people are running, and voters seem engaged. 56% of millennials polled by CNN this month said they were likely to cast a ballot. In California, 100,000 16-17-year-olds have already preregistered.

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Still, as the skeptics never tire of saying, only about half of all eligible young voters actually voted in 2016, and young people traditionally lag even further behind their elders in non-presidential elections.  Two months after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, youth registration was actually down in the Tallahassee epicenter of the protests.

Personally, I’m always impressed not by how few, but by how many young people manage to cast a ballot given how vigorously others try to stop them. As Parkland School shooting survivor David Hogg tweeted recently, if the selective service can register 18-year-olds automatically for war, there’s no real reason the state boards of elections couldn’t do likewise for democracy.

Instead, as the young tend to favor Democrats, GOP lawmakers are doing everything they can to stop them voting at all, such as curbing opportunities for registration and early voting, reducing polling places, and requiring photo IDs with a current address. Exposing voter suppression should be priority number one for journalists, but it’s so much easier to throw shade than light.

You can watch our special on the Millennial vote this month on Free Speech TV and Manhattan Neighborhood Network, and you can see or listen to my interview with Maurice Mitchell, the new National Director of the Working Families Party on the Laura Flanders Show at www.lauraflanders.org.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org

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