Crossposted at Campus Pride.
One of the biggest stories of the 2008 election was the number of young voters who showed up at the polls, generating a youth voter turnout that was among the highest in our nation’s history.
The voting landscape has changed considerably since the last presidential election, however, and several months ago, a Gallup poll indicated that young voters are less intent on turning out to vote than they were four years ago. The tenor of this year’s pre-election season has been much more fraught, in significant part due to politicians’ attempts to make voting more difficult for certain populations, including student voters. Over the last two years, states introduced a wave of restrictive voting laws, including photo identification requirements, voter registration restrictions, and cutbacks to early voting periods.
In the face of these attacks on voting, it’s not hard to see why young voters might feel discouraged or powerless.
But we shouldn’t be discouraged.
As many bullies as there may be trying to keep us away from the polls, there are many more allies fighting — and succeeding — to protect our right to vote. Vetoes, referendums, court decisions, and the Voting Rights Act have blocked or weakened restrictive laws in over a dozen states. In fact, every court to consider one of these new voting restrictions has watered it down or stopped it in its tracks. If you’re unsure about the voting laws in your state, the Brennan Center’s 50-state Student Voting Guide is an online resource designed to help young voters navigate the laws in place for this year’s election, including registration deadlines, residency requirements, identification policies, and absentee voting rules.
And we shouldn’t feel powerless.
More than ever, each vote this election is more than just a vote: it’s a sign of courage, a sign that we will not back down in the face of those who would keep us out of the political process. Our vote signifies that 2008 was not some one-hit wonder, but that the youth voting bloc is and continues to be a political force to be reckoned with. And one vote has more influence than you may think — multiplied by your social network, and then multiplied again by the networks of your network, your resolve to vote can have exponential power. The only powerless vote is no vote at all.
Though some of us may be disheartened or dissatisfied with our nation’s present course, the answer is not to disengage or throw up our hands in defeat, but to engage with renewed passion and an even greater sense of urgency. It doesn’t take any guts to be cynical; it’s easy to criticize and complain. The bold response is to act — and we can start by voting. This election, be bold, and encourage those around you to be bold, too.