The Power of the Youth Vote

November 02, 2020

Young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are playing a key role in this year’s presidential election. As of Oct. 30, more than seven million of them had voted early or via absentee ballot. And, in 13 states, the youth share of the early vote is higher than it was as of this point in 2016 (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement). And there are still countless more who will vote in person on Nov. 3.

The Importance of Voting and Voting Rights

The University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lecture Series brought a panel of experts together last month to highlight the importance of voting and voting rights, particularly for young people. Here are some highlights of what they shared:

Why should Americans, particularly young people, vote?

Senator Doug McCrory '88, MM '95: "It is so important for us to engage in this process because if you want your voice heard, you have an opportunity to cast your ballot for the person you want in office. If you don’t vote, you actually are voting by allowing others to do it for you. That’s not what democracy is about."

Michelle Stockwell, Rock the Vote: "Voting is the best tool we have to get people in office who will work with us. When we turn out, we’re telling them that we’re paying attention, we’ll hold them accountable. Then they’ll listen when you protest and lobby and go to city council meetings. When we vote, we tell our politicians that we take our rights and what happens in our communities really seriously and voting allows us to do other things that amplify our power."

What are some of the reasons why young people don’t vote?

Michelle Stockwell: "There is a dangerous myth that young people are apathetic or don’t care about voting or that they are lazy. I can tell you none of those things are true, especially this year. But what does happen, we have inconsistent civic education in high schools and they don’t often prepare people to vote.

Young people are very transient and have very inconsistent schedules, with classes and part-time jobs. They move a lot. This chaos that happens when you’re young makes it hard to manage the logistics of voting, especially if you are doing it for the first time."

Senator Doug McCrory: "Young people aren’t dumb. If they find someone who is engaging them, who meets their needs, and speaks their language and speaks to their issues, who make themselves available, they will come out and support them."

Some voters, particularly young voters, don’t think their vote matters? Why is this an incorrect belief?

Sahara Williams ’22: "When we vote, we don’t just vote for the president. We have so many offices all the way down. It’s very important to realize that there are so many smaller elections that matter and will affect your everyday life. Voting is a really good gesture to show you care and if you get enough people on board, the votes really do count especially in those smaller elections.

You really make history. The first time I voted in 2018, I was able to vote in the first Black man from Upstate New York into Congress and elect New York’s first Black female Attorney General and that was really important to me."

Karen Hobert Flynn, Democracy Initiative: "There are so many elections where it comes down to a handful of votes. And those votes can matter. In 2017, there were 23,000 votes cast for Virginia’s House of Delegates and the election ended in a tie. Some states have run offs, but in Virginia, they do the equivalent of tossing a coin. One more voter showing up could have made the difference in terms of who controlled that state house."

What advice do you have for young voters?

Karen Hobert Flynn: "I urge everyone to make a plan to vote. If you are going to vote in person on election day, go early, bring the mask and the purell and everything else you need to vote safely and you wait in that line. Don’t get out of that line because they will have to let you vote. Stay in the line."