Young people historically turn out to vote at abysmal rates, yet their voices are critical. In an electoral system that makes voting inaccessible and onerous, college students — many of whom are voting for the first time and living far from their home state — must jump through additional hoops to determine where and how to cast a ballot. As the midterm elections approach, it is vital that college students put in an effort to make their voices heard in elections across the nation.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 Senate seats and hundreds of local positions are up for grabs Nov. 8. These elected officials will be making decisions on reproductive rights, voting regulations and democratic values over the next several years. Generation Z will be most affected by the consequences of these policies — not our parents or grandparents — so it is crucial that we exercise our right to vote.
Young voters can shape electoral outcomes. From the 2014 to the 2018 midterms, turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds nearly doubled from 16% to 30% of eligible voters. This record-breaking turnout helped elect representatives across the nation that reflected young people’s values. Gen Z maintained its voting stamina in 2020, turning out at record levels and securing President Joe Biden’s win. Halfway through the Biden presidency, it is essential that young voters maintain this energy and dedication to the electoral process.
Political campaigns often focus their outreach efforts on the most likely voters, typically older generations who are more established in their communities and political ideologies. As college students, we are constantly moving around, adjusting our opinions and learning more about the electoral process. Students often have unanswered questions about the voting process that result in some of the main logistical barriers to voting.
There are a few fundamental steps that college students must understand in order to vote. Firstly, college students have the ability to register to vote with either their home address or school address. Plan on voting wherever makes the most sense for you, whether that’s where you feel more established or where your vote will have the most impact. The outcomes of district-wide elections depend on every single vote, and your voice can contribute to maintaining or flipping the seats that represent your community.
Next, determine whether you plan to vote absentee by requesting a mail-in ballot. Every state has different deadlines and requirements, so educate yourself on your state’s regulations beforehand. Finally, preview your ballot so you can make informed decisions on the candidates. Down-ballot elections for local positions such as school board and state assembly are often overlooked, but these positions will have the most immediate impact on your local community.
If you’re feeling frustrated with the system, know that your vote can elect officials who are working toward voter accessibility. Students disproportionately face voting barriers caused by ID requirements and proof of residency, which discourage many students from engaging with the process. Use your vote to elect candidates who will make it easier for you to vote.
In an era of misinformation about election integrity and ballot security, our democracy depends upon faith in the electoral system. Despite claims from certain media outlets and conspiracy organizations, both in-person and mail ballots are securely counted and processed. There have not been any serious concerns of voter fraud or voter impersonation in any U.S. elections. Exercising the right to vote is one of the most effective and secure ways to ensure that future policies represent your voice and opinions.
Many people feel justified in sitting out midterm elections because the president is not on the ballot. However, because of lower midterm turnout rates and the composition of midterm ballots, these elections are arguably even more important. Unlike the electoral vote count used in presidential elections, the popular vote count utilized in the midterms ensures that everyone’s vote has equal weight. Local positions and ballot initiatives are sometimes decided by just a few hundred votes and will directly impact your community. These decisions influence your school systems, local infrastructure and community equity projects.
Don’t sit out this year’s midterms. Voting can be daunting, confusing and inconvenient for all of us. Even though young people tend to turn out at lower rates, Gen Z has busted this stereotype time and time again by showing up to the polls. Beat the system by planning to vote in this year’s midterms on November 8.
Molly May is a sophomore in the College.