Despite the vexation of incessant donation emails and campaign ads, Kate Barnekow asserts the significance of college voters.
I’m sick of this election season. The attack ads, the donation emails, the incessant Facebook posts from high school friends I don’t even talk to and distant relatives I’ve never met—I’m ready for it all to end. And in less than a week, it will all be over. But in the meantime—and hear me out—we absolutely have to get involved.
For the past three months, I’ve been working on a project for the Fair Election Legal Network (FELN), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.. FELN’s mission is to remove barriers to registration and voting. Its Campus Vote Project (CVP) is a “campaign to help college students work with administrators and local election officials to make the process of voting easier and overcome barriers students often face to voting.”
As the CVP’s Statewide Coordinator for Florida, I’ve emailed, met with, talked to and traveled to meet people across the state and country, and I’ve gained a lot of extremely valuable information about college students and voting that I’d like to share with you.
We can’t let a lack of information, cynical politicians or anything else stop us from participating in this historical election
First, let’s agree that this is a crucial election. Tuition costs, healthcare, marriage equality, our strategy in the Middle East and a host of other issues all depend on the outcome of Nov. 6. And yet many of us will not vote. Disappointingly, our demographic has a history of not turning out at the polls. In the 2008 election, 67 percent of people 30 and over voted, while only 49 percent of us between the ages of 18 and 24 did. Why is this? A major reason is that many students are away from home. In a new location, we may not know how to register, when to vote, where to vote, or what types of identification to bring to the polls. Even knowing whether or not we can vote in our college community (instead of having to vote back home) can be confusing.
Moreover, and nefariously, many states have enacted laws that are designed to make it harder for students to vote. Florida is one of these states. The most prevalent of these laws require voters to show forms of identification that students typically don’t have.
We can’t let a lack of information, cynical politicians or anything else stop us from participating in this historic election. Voting is our right—and responsibility—as citizens of the world’s leading democracy. I hear people say that they’re not going to vote, for whatever reason, and I always tell them the same thing: not voting isn’t rebellion, it’s surrender. A low voter turnout doesn’t make us look cool and intellectual (or whatever else it is you’re going for), it makes us look uninformed and apathetic.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it this way: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” Replace “American people” with “college students” and you’ll get my point.