POV: Gen Z Voted at Record Levels in 2020—But That’s Not Enough
College students had a record-breaking turnout for the 2020 election, but will that energy translate to state and local elections?
POV: Gen Z Voted at Record Levels in 2020—but That’s Not Enough
College students had a record-breaking turnout for the 2020 presidential election, but will that energy translate to state and local elections?
Voting has been an important aspect of my life from a young age. My parents stressed that to me, because up until the 1960s, Black people were not even allowed to vote. When I go to the polls, whether it be for municipal court elections or a presidential election, I think of those who fought so I could have the right to make my voice heard.
Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights activist in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., led voting drives in the ’60s. Dahmer was murdered in his own home after the Ku Klux Klan set his house on fire. While being murdered for helping people register to vote may seem like something that happened a long time ago, I think about the fact that I went to school with his great-grandson. It is a reminder that my parents’ generation is the first generation of Black people with full rights of citizenship.
I know it’s a dark thought to remember all those who fought and even died just so I could exercise my right to vote, but it’s empowering to know that every time I vote, I’m doing so with the power of many activists behind me. However, not all college students feel the same. When young people do have a significant turnout, as with last year’s record number of college student voters, it’s usually for a presidential election. Presidential elections appear so important because young people will vote on what seems more consequential to them.
When we vote in presidential elections, the major issues like climate change, healthcare, or race issues seem even more prevalent. However, local government elections impact college students by affecting tuition expenses, job wages, and in some cases, people’s access to clean drinking water. Many politicians take advantage of the fact that many 18- to 25-year-olds likely will not turn out to vote in these elections, and therefore only appeal to older generations that may be comfortable with the status quo. Local and state elections have fewer resources, so students don’t get to see those issues as much.
It’s incredibly important to educate students about how local politics can sometimes be more important than national politics. Many college students got involved in the 2020 presidential election because they believed some of the issues in that race were life or death, that decisions being made on those issues within the next few years would be irreversible. The question now is how do we transfer that sense of urgency to state and local elections, while increasing voter turnout among the younger generation?
The answer is simple, but the practice is a little more complicated. We need to understand that voting is a civic practice that was fought for. We need to understand how to fill out and cast a ballot. We need to understand who we are voting for and what office candidates are running for. It would also be helpful to allow more mail-in voting, hold elections on weekends, automatically register voters, and pass federal laws that reduce disenfranchised voters.
Even now, it’s a long and sometimes difficult process for me to vote in my home state of Mississippi. While this is not the case for other students who mail their ballots, I have to follow a strict process of making sure that I request my ballot in time, fill in my ballot in front of witnesses, get it notarized, and mail it back to Mississippi in time for my vote to count. But I know it’s worth it.
Civic engagement neither starts nor ends with voting. That is why BU Student Government has events and initiatives that are focused on educating the student body on politics, not only in the Boston area, but also throughout the country. We are even fortunate enough this year to host a forum with the Boston mayoral candidates Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George (CAS’96). At the end of the day, being involved in politics is about holding your elected officials accountable. Voting is one of the many steps required to help create much-needed change. I believe the change that many college students are calling for will lead to a better country, but in order to realize those changes, it’s necessary not only for the federal government to make changes, but for state and local governments to make changes as well.
Nyah Jordan (COM’22) is president of BU Student Government; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at email@example.com. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.
No election will bring “real change” because all of it is corrupt lol, stop trying to convince us into complacency by saying voting is the best we can do. We’re reliving the late 1800s. The best we can do is revolutionize and demand actual structural reform, not just let a bunch of good for nothing politicians continue to tell us they’ll do things they never will as the rich just become richer and hide all of the country’s money in offshore accounts. It’s embarrassing that “liberals” are happy to stagnate and let the poor suffer more and more when we could very simply end this, as revolutionaries have before. It’s beyond time.
I completely agree that there should be a greater focus on state and local elections. I realized the importance of these elections the past year during my state elections. We as students often times don’t realize how much state and local elections directly impact us. These smaller elections can affect our rent, pay, taxes, and how much funding goes into the community that we live in. These issues may seem a lot less significant than issues impacted by federal elections, but they play a huge role in our daily quality of life.
Many people will refuse to vote because they think their votes are insignificant or elections are corrupt. However, by not voting, local issues will only get determined by a small number of voters, skewing the representation of the population. This is what really makes election results ‘corrupt’, because it’s unfair. We have also seen in history multiple close-call elections where the results came down to recounting the votes. If everyone had the mentality that votes don’t matter, there would be no votes.
Voting is the best thing citizens can do if we don’t have the resources to enact direct change on our community.
As college students, it can be hard to keep up with each of the federal and state/local elections due to class schedules, other commitments, and being out of state (often difficult to remember to request an absentee ballot or request since we move so much during college). Growing up, voting wasn’t always prioritized or talked about in my schools, so I’ve seen with many of my peers and myself that it’s hard to remember to make it a priority to take time to vote. It’s great to see BU Student Government taking the initiative to encourage voter participation among students. In 2020, they did a great job with VoteBIG, hosting the voter registration events and great speakers!
Yes, I totally agree that younger people definitely see more value in voting in presidential elections. I think part of this is because they are influenced by others – and since everyone votes in the presidential election, they are more likely to as well. Whereas on the other hand, only people local to our state or hometown vote in local elections, causing less of a “bandwagon” for people to vote in their local elections. I know that for myself, I have not voted in local elections but now will make it a point to. After thinking about things that you mentioned like rent and utilities access, it makes a lot more sense that local elections have a greater personal effect, while maybe presidential elections have a greater total effect.
I have always found it interesting how some countries make it mandatory for their citizens to vote. I’m not exactly sure how that would fly in the U.S. but I think it is something worth considering here. We always encourage people to vote so that they have their voice heard, and although turnout is increasing, it is still not nearly the entire population that is eligible. If we were to implement something like this, it could make sure that everyone’s voices are heard.
This was a really great article. I definitely agree with your analysis of the problem we have with youth voter turnout. Young people often aren’t energized to vote unless the circumstances are very dire. However, I don’t believe your solutions address the underlying issue.
Voter disenfranchisement is a problem, though recent studies suggest that the effect is only marginal at best. When 40-50% of young people don’t vote during general elections, solutions that address voter disenfranchisement will only get you so far, especially during local elections. As you stated earlier, local elections affect college students whether they vote or not. It’s not enough to teach people about the history of voting rights or to make it easier to vote. We have to give them a reason to vote. It’s more crucial that we inform young people about the decisions at the ballot so that they can be motivated to shape the outcomes.
I completely agree with this articles sentiment persuading young individuals to not only vote in the federal elections but also in state and local elections. As a young individual myself I have witnessed the many efforts my high school, the media and even my parents have given to persuade me and my pears to vote during presidential elections but I have noticed a lack of emphasis on the elections this article is specifically emphasizing-state and local elections. Like most of the other people that left comments, I also believe that voting in local and state elections is very important as well. For example, as a student I did research on the MBTA that peaked my interest. However, if I want the MBTA to change simply voting for the presidential candidate I support won’t suffice. Voting in state and local elections that directly deal with the MBTA would give me a much higher chance of creating change in the MBTA. Even more specifically one of Boston’s mayoral candidates even used the MBTA as one of her main campaign points. So, I love that this article emphasized the importance in voting in state and local elections because it is so crucial.
I enjoy the way this article brings about a prevalent observation on how college students focus on their activism of voting rights when it only comes to federal elections. Since the emphasis has been on that case for so long, it isn’t common for college students to realize that their local governments have an effect on their rights as well, not only as citizens, but as students as well. Every year, students are recognizing the power of their voting rights and how it came to be, especially within the minority. I enjoyed your beginning anecdotal paragraphs you wrote because it isn’t everyday people realize how not much time has passed when voting rights were given to all citizens and it has shaped society differently in that aspect. College students should take advantage of their ability to vote for all elections instead of just staying “woke” when it comes to the federal elections.
I thought this article makes a really good point about the voting habits of college students and it is definitely something I have experienced myself. Before I could vote I was excited about getting to participate in future presidential elections (especially after 2016) because those felt the most impactful to me. It was largely other people on the internet (embarrassingly, Tik Tok) that made me realize the importance of state and local elections; our votes count a lot more at those levels. Still, I have missed some local elections. My state makes it easy to vote absentee, but it is also easy to forget, and that’s why reminders like this are important.
In this most recent election, I had not identified myself as an absentee until someone in one of my classes brought up that we should check out local our elections. I don’t think this article is arguing that voting is the only solution, but I think it raises the important point that those of us who have relatively easy access to voting should be doing it when we can. In a school like BU, with students from so many places, keeping this topic in peoples’ minds increases the number of people who actually vote in these elections.