Last week, I was able to have an experience I’ve been waiting to have for a good portion of my life; that is, to vote. Walking up to my local precinct to cast a ballot in the Sauk Rapids-Rice school district referendum, it occurred to me what a simple, yet powerful act this really is. I was in and out in minutes, but was satisfied I had been able to have my voice in affairs for the first time. Unfortunately, this is something many people my age don’t appreciate until much later on.
Turning 18 is a momentous occasion in one’s life, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with everything that goes on. There’s graduation and choosing colleges, proms and finals. It’s easy to forget another milestone is achieved at this important age, the right to vote. Though you may not think voting is that important or that your one vote won’t make a difference as a young person, I beg to differ.
Voting is such an important and amazing thing because it’s one of the major reasons why the United States is so special. In a democratic country, we choose our leaders by turning out to cast ballots every two to four years to elect many offices. Everything from the local school board to the president of the United States is determined by the votes of everyday people.
That is why I think it’s such an alarming statistic that young people are one of the least active voter blocs in the country. With rising college costs, a changing job market and increasing health-care costs, there are plenty of issues that affect us, yet only 49.4 percent of 18-to 35 year-olds went to the ballot box nationwide in 2016 according to the Pew Research Center. This is despite the 18-35 age group approaching the mark of being the largest group of voters in the country. If you think about your vote as being part of millions across the nation, you can see just how much potential influence is being wasted.
And there are certainly reasons for this low participation. As more young people leave for college after high school, they may be living in different states or jurisdictions and confused about how and where to vote. Additionally, the chaotic final weeks of high school and adjusting to what’s happening next in life often leaves voting on the back burner.
This is a problem because not voting now can be a start to never doing it at all. Voting is a habit like brushing your teeth. The more you do it, the more automatic and natural it becomes. If young people don’t start voting now, we risk giving up one of our major tools to influence public affairs in a time period that is critical to the rest of our lives. Public officials and officeholders respond to participation and activism, and so we should make our voices heard.
If you’re wondering where to begin, or are still confused about how exactly to vote in the first place, the state of Minnesota has many great options available. A great resource is the Minnesota Secretary of State website, where you can register to vote with your address and ID such as a driver’s license in minutes. If you’re going out of town for college, you can register at your home address and submit an absentee ballot either in person or by mail. And, if you really forget until the last minute, Minnesota also has same-day voter registration.
So there, we have no excuse not to vote, and it’s not just young people. When 56 percent of registered voters turn out nationwide in 2016, and 75 percent in Minnesota, there is plenty of room for improvement for all ages. Voting takes minutes, and only takes place once or twice a year depending on where you live. So be sure to get out to vote in November and whenever the polls are open. Our democracy and country will be all the better for it.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.