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This Year, Let’s Close the Turnout Gap

ESME FAHNESTOCK

ESME FAHNESTOCK

ESME FAHNESTOCK

This Year, Let’s Close the Turnout Gap

The midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6, present voters with the opportunity to restructure the national political landscape. This is a chance for voters to translate critiques of the Trump administration into tangible change by voting for ballot measures and candidates they feel represent their values. 

But these midterms go beyond issues of national politics. 

Gubernatorial races and other state elections may affect our daily lives more than a federal election would. Many of the state officials elected on Nov. 6 will redraw legislative districts following the 2020 census; those districts cannot be changed again until 2030. Often this partisan redistricting, or gerrymandering, contributes to systemic inequality and further disenfranchises marginalized voting populations by weakening a particular group’s vote and guaranteeing that they have fewer representatives in office. 

All this is to say: vote. Because not many young people do in midterm elections.  

Historically, midterm elections have elicited significantly lower voter turnout than presidential elections. According to FairVote, a nonprofit voting rights organization, over 58 percent of eligible American voters showed up to the polls for the 2016 presidential vote, but only 35.9 percent participated in the 2014 midterm election.

Midterm turnout rates are notoriously low among voters aged 18 to 35. Millennials are now as large of a political force as baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. census data. Both generations make up approximately 31 percent of the overall electorate, yet millennials continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. 

Perhaps this is because young people move frequently, which makes voting more difficult. Or, maybe it is because campaign outreach efforts often overlook younger voters and therefore, fewer young people show up to the polls. These potential barriers make student votes even more important. 

It’s clear that young Americans care deeply about the future of our country. Much of the national activism in the last couple of years has been organized and supported by young voters. Movements like March for Our Lives, the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter indicate the power and passion of young people. On our campus, students often participate in and organize political activity. At Middlebury, students volunteer for political candidates, push for more recognition and support for undocumented students and rally against the current presidential administration’s redefinition of gender, among other political activity.  

But movements and protests aren’t enough. We need people to vote to bring the issues they care about and the issues which afflict their local communities into the legislative sphere. As the most diverse voting group, millennials have the unique ability to advocate for minorities and historically disenfranchised populations. 

We have a civic responsibility to vote and we appreciate that Middlebury prepares us to make informed choices. We are lucky to be surrounded by a variety of people and intellectual discourses which challenge our political views. Our school gives us access to a wealth of magazines, newspapers, textbooks, ethnographies and journal articles, all of which we can use to bolster or challenge our own thinking. Voting gives us a way to translate the knowledge we accrue in Middlebury’s academic environment into tangible social change. 

We recognize that voting absentee can be a hassle. We also know that some states, like Georgia, have suppressed minority votes. Middlebury students are fortunate, however, to live in Vermont where same-day voter registration exists; the majority of states require voters to register 15 to 30 days before an election. We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. If you find voting in your home state to be difficult, register to vote in Vermont.

Even if you don’t vote in Vermont, it is important to follow the local races and debates. These races may seem detached from Middlebury College life, but they are not. They affect the discussions between Middlebury students, faculty, staff and the broader Vermont community. Living in a small state also gives us the opportunity to interact with accessible leaders and politicians, another rarity. Take advantage of the fact that your voice will be heard and become a part of the change that local and state governments can carry out.  

Of course, political engagement must continue beyond Nov. 6. This means canvassing for future candidates, donating to organizations you believe in, going to protests, calling politicians to raise awareness about issues affecting your community, reading your local newspaper to understand what your neighbors care about, writing in to your local paper to express your views and having conversations with friends and family.

However, we have to acknowledge the ways in which, during this midterm season, Middlebury has a chance to overcome historically low young voter turnout and make our voices heard. 

If we truly aim to be the engaged global citizens advertised in our college’s mission statement, the least we can do is participate in this fall’s elections. After all, what is the point of learning about the world if we never take action to change it?