By Ryan Biehl
Ever since I was a young boy, I always assumed that voting was one of those things everyone did. This idea was ingrained in me early on by my parents, who have voted in every election that I can remember. When I was seven, they even took me out of school to accompany them as they each cast a historic vote for the first African-American president. After that day, voting was something I looked forward to doing when I turned 18.
As my excitement about being a first-time voter grew, I also learned that many Americans decide not to vote. In fact, only 55% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. Until recently, I never understood why this was. But as I soon found out, people often don’t vote because they believe that their vote doesn’t matter. And if their vote doesn’t matter, why even vote at all? Well, several key states in the 2016 election were decided by just a few thousand votes. At the same time, young people — ages 18-29 — have historically lower than average rates of voter turnout.
So we know the problem. Now, the biggest question is how will that change in 2018? With recent backlash against gun violence, a charge led by a group of students from Parkland, Florida, young people have finally realized that if we want actual policy change — for example, to stop the scourge of gun violence in our country — then we need to go out and vote. We have realized that the best advocates for issues that affect young people are young people like us. We must refuse to allow policies to be put in place that harm us.
Gun violence is not the only issue that our country must tackle. Immigration reform and a woman’s right to choose are both key issues that will likely be decided by the next Congress and this election. We all need to go out on November 6 and make our voices heard at the ballot box, because even if you don’t think your vote has an impact, history says otherwise. So get out and vote for candidates and propositions you feel will represent your values at the local, state, or national level. If you don’t vote, that is your choice too. But then do not be disappointed if things don’t turn out the way you wish in Sacramento or Washington, DC. I’m 17 year old. I won’t be able to vote until 2019. So I want you to vote because I can’t. I’m watching, and so is my generation, and we’re counting on you.
Ryan Biehl is a Teen Fellow for Jewish Center for Justice.