Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: This election season, make your voice heard

By
Monday, September 10, 2018

On Sept. 12, Rhode Island voters will have the chance to cast their ballots in primary elections for offices at the local, state and federal level. The midterm general elections are in November, when all the seats in the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the Senate will be up for vote. These two election days will have a momentous impact on the direction of the United States. Still, the low turnout of young voters — who, almost reliably, do not vote in midterms — is deeply worrisome, and even threatens to compromise the sanctity of our representative system, widening the mismatch between elected representatives and the constituents to whom they are ultimately responsible. (To be sure, the problem of underwhelming turnout is not limited to young people: Across age groups, four in 10 registered voters did not participate in the 2016 presidential elections; President Trump won with fewer than 80,000 votes in three states.) This election season, in a political moment fraught with cantankerous partisanship and grassroots energy, we urge students — at colleges in Rhode Island and young people more generally — to put into practice their electoral power, get registered and vote.

The sorry turnout rates of young voters is a persistent problem in American politics. In the 2016 presidential election, only 46.1 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds voted — the lowest reported voting rate of any age group. In contrast, the second-lowest group, 30 to 44-year-olds, boasted a voting rate over 12 percentage points higher. In midterm elections, young people’s voting percentages are even lower: The turnout rate of millennials between the ages of 18 and 24 — the age of most college students — is only 20 percent. Meanwhile, baby boomers between the ages of 45 and 49 have a voter turnout rate of 52 percent in midterm elections. While millennials, and young people as a whole, make up a significant portion of the American electorate, their voices are drowned out by the interests of other groups, simply because they don’t vote. In a country experiencing tectonic shifts in demographic constitution and economic security — along with regular attacks on American ideals and democratic institutions once considered invulnerable — the choice to sit on the sidelines during elections has tremendous, troubling consequences for the future.

According to a recent Tufts study, students at Brown have a higher turnout rate than the average university, as 59 percent of eligible students voted in the 2016 presidential election. (In 2012, the student body’s turnout rate was one percentage point below the national average.) This is welcome news — but it is still disconcerting that over four out of every 10 eligible Brown students did not cast a ballot. 

In the United States, it is easy to take representation for granted. But, in truth, voting is a precious right in perilous condition. Across the country, legislators in eight states have introduced 16 bills to restrict voting — through limits on absentee and early voting — on top of the 35 restrictive bills carried over from the previous legislative sessions of 14 states. The burden of restricted voting disproportionately affects black and Hispanic voters, who report experiencing a number of roadblocks — including lacking proper identification, missing registration deadlines, experiencing harassment and having trouble taking time off work and finding their polling place — at higher rates than white Americans. These obstacles, in total, tend to favor Republican candidates. 

To their credit, student organizations have made available numerous ways to get involved in local, state and national politics through the activism of partisan student groups and the debates and lectures hosted by non-partisan clubs. The University is also making a concerted effort to increase voter turnout. On Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., the Swearer Center is hosting an Elections Cafe, in which students can talk with local candidates and elected officials. The Swearer Center has also partnered with Turbo Vote, a platform that allows students to easily find information about registration and voting. And this week, the Salomon Center on the Main Green will be used as a polling place.

We applaud all the University staff and students who are working toward voter education and increasing young people’s access to voting. But these efforts mean nothing unless students take advantage of them. We hope that, this election cycle, students will have the opportunity to convert their political convictions into action, cast their ballots and assert their voice in the formation of America’s future.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Rhaime Kim ’20, Grace Layer ’20, Mark Liang ’19 and Krista Stapleford ’21. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.