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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Why college students shouldn’t have to vote in the first place

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The matter of voter turnout on college campuses is a hot-button topic. Student activists are speaking out, demanding more voting access for their peers and demanding change.

High school students are participating in and watching election coverage. In at least one hypothetical gubernatorial race, students have been engaged in controversy over whether college students should be allowed to vote while attending college in California.

This column was written for The Times-Picayune, a newspaper in New Orleans, where it is published. It was submitted and edited by freelance writer Kathleen Gray.

College students and their parents live at different ends of the voting spectrum. In fact, some on the parent end might not have voted at all during their lifetimes. So when college students do not cast ballots, it makes you wonder why. You might imagine it’s that they are too busy or too young to truly understand politics. But isn’t that to only their own detriment?

College students are being underrepresented at the ballot box. More than 2 million college students never cast a vote, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report. This high absentee rate among college students is by far a serious problem that hurts candidates who cannot attract the crucial, young demographic.

I have been fascinated by students’ interest in politics ever since I took a journalism class in college. I am from a town in the Appalachian Mountains that houses one of the largest military bases in the world. This country is not very politically progressive — the last time I voted was 2010 and I actually forget how many national races there were. The only race that really interests me is the presidential election and I’m very reluctant to step up to the ballot box when it doesn’t matter.

New Orleans isn’t exactly a hotspot for political activism, but I heard stories about students having a tough time getting out of school for a primary election. I did have a hard time remembering how many candidates there were in New Orleans this year. And I still cannot tell you who Jerry Lewis won the governor’s race. If a politician manages to get elected without a single vote, what’s the point?

Didn’t millennials vote in the last presidential election? During the last presidential election, there were only two important campaigns for students to follow. In 2016, I could not tell you who was running for a local school board or the mayor of New Orleans. Even if I could, I would not really care. Politicians are not my peers and if politicians are not doing me justice, I don’t want to vote for them.

So what’s preventing young adults from voting? Well, it’s hard to be educated when most of your friends are in college. Some college students are unaware of the work that voters do. Others think their peers will not do the work it takes to vote, let alone be the ones to win office. And that’s how our generational apathy is born.

Adults will vote in the presidential election, but many of us are more invested in the people on our local school board and the candidates who represent us in our state and city.

“Well, you can’t change it now. The votes are already cast.” I hear that all the time. But it’s not as easy as it seems. In order to make change, we can start by starting an organization that will expand the voting pool in the community. We can rally our community to register voters. We can demand that our candidate has as many diverse opinions as possible. We can demand that our candidate’s platform includes more than building infrastructure or “racism is over.”

A majority of the people in our community may have voted for a president, but there is certainly someone out there who is concerned with what’s going on in our neighborhood or state.

And we have to remember that if we don’t vote, we’re contributing to our local culture being underrepresented. It is important to me to see someone with my skin color or gender representing me in this community — I hope they are all out there on campuses across the country.

Read the full op-ed on www.neworleans.com.

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