Young people, particularly Generation Z (ages 18-29) could be poised to greatly influence the 2020 election. If, that is, they get out and vote. Historically, the youth vote has been sporadic at best, leaving older and even elderly Americans to determine political races. And those voters’ priorities, as it turns out, often don’t benefit the younger generations just starting out.
How to Encourage the Youth Vote: Education
If you come from a politically active family, then voting is usually socially-ingrained. But, it turns out many young people of voting age simply don’t understand the voting process (sort of how they don’t know how to use a rotary phone or mail an actual letter; there’s no point in making fun of them, you just need to teach them).
Take, for instance, Rock the Vote and Teaching Tolerance’s Democracy Class, launched at this time last year. It used to be offered in public schools’ civics classes where the basics of voting and citizenship were taught. But budget cuts eviscerated those long ago.
“Today, only nine states require a full year of civics education,” Rock the Vote told The Washington Post. “Ten states don’t require it at all. In 31 states, students only have to learn about our democracy for one semester. That’s about three and a half months to learn about something as important as our democracy.”
And low-income minority students get the shorter end of the stick.
“A mere 25% of high school students achieved a grade of sufficient on a national civics assessment test,” Rock the Vote stated. “Black and Latino kids from low-income households do significantly worse on the test than their white, middle-class peers. In other words, those who are most in need of advocating for resources are the least prepared to do so.”
A program like this concludes with getting students pre-registered (or registered if they’re of age) to vote, thus making it even easier to get to the polls when election day arrives.
How to Encourage Your Young Person to Vote
One of the things you can do as a parent is to research voting rights in your state. In some states, such as California, teens can pre-register to vote at 16, around the time they get their driver’s license. Other states, such as Alaska, only let teens register 90 days before they turn 18. This means the moment they turn 18 they’re already registered and ready to vote.
In some states, there’s a registration deadline ranging from 15-30 days before an election. If your youth voter misses that deadline, they still might be able to vote by casting a conditional registration and provisional ballot. Still, it’s better to think ahead and just register or pre-register way before election day.
Want to know what your state is up to in terms of voting? Rock the Vote has a handy page for that, just plug in your state and find out how easy, or hard, it is to register and keep your registration valid.
Finally, point out to your teen that while their adult life is new and politics might seem irrelevant, the politicians who get voted in will have an impact on their lives for years. Issues like student loan payment reform, climate change, gun control, health care, and social security will play front-and-center earlier rather than later.
Finally, make sure your child has access. A simple family car trip to the polls can make the difference between casting a vote or not. Make sure they bring their photo ID. Ensure they understand how to operate voting machines (no hanging chads, please).
Some teens are ready for action, like Los Angeles-based Elle Nicoletti, 17. Turning 18 is just the start of elevated political activism.
“Well, obviously I’ll be able to vote in the upcoming election, which is definitely a big plus,” Nicoletti tells Parentology. “I believe that people start to take you a bit more seriously as well. For the first time, your voice matters in terms of voting.”