It is an understatement to say that voting in 2020 is confusing.
A recent USPS postcard reminded voters to request mail-in ballots, only to confuse voters in California who will automatically receive their ballots in the mail. President Trump recently seemed to encourage North Carolina residents to vote twice in the upcoming election, creating another source of confusion. As even seasoned voters now struggle with the confusing world of presidential elections during a pandemic, schools must help make voting accessible for eligible students this election year.
Young people in the United States today are undoubtedly politically active. In the past four years, students at my high school have led protests to reduce gun violence and protect the environment. My school is not alone — 90% of young Americans reported an interest in politics in 2016. Teenagers have been on the front lines of protests not just against gun violence and climate change, but also against other issues like racism. Yet despite all of this political interest, only 43% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 ended up voting in the 2016 election.
According to Duke University, reasons for the limited youth voter turnout include a lack of adequate preparation from high school civics classes, teachers shying away from political discussions in the classroom and fluid voter registration laws. Not only that, but young people have become disillusioned by the voting process in the United States after not seeing their ballots translate into real change. I have seen this occur firsthand in the recent Democratic primaries, where young people’s support for progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders translated into a nomination for Joe Biden.
Yet, voting still matters — proof of this statement lies in local elections. In a 2002 Washington state House race, candidate Kevin Entze lost by just one vote. Young people voting have the opportunity to make a positive impact and should have the resources needed to do so.
Even though I can’t vote yet at the age of 17, an increased youth voter turnout in the 2016 election would have made a monumental impact on my life. With stronger environmental policies, my home state of California might not have burned down this year. With reduced college debt initiatives, I could apply to more universities without worrying about finances. With a better COVID-19 response, I could be spending my senior year of high school in-person as opposed to online.
To encourage voting amongst young people, the DMV should remind drivers to pre-register to vote when they get their licenses. Celebrities like Frank Ocean and Jaden Smith have already worked to make voting among young people trendy through free merchandise and Snapchat episodes. Other public figures have and should continue to keep pushing the importance of voting to their young audiences. Social media influencers on platforms like Tik Tok, Youtube and Instagram can use their platforms for good and encourage youth voting. On Instagram stories, the Register to Vote sticker helps make voting fun and easily accessible to anyone already on social media.
Schools are perhaps in an even more perfect position to disperse these necessary resources and help young people make the decision to vote. In social studies classes, students should learn how the voting process works and what to expect on Election Day. In class, students should learn how to research different candidates using credible sources. Students should be encouraged to attend events like town halls where they can engage with local candidates, and schools should strive to bring these events to campus.
Schools should also run on-campus voter registration drives to make voter registration more accessible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these drives should disperse updated voting information and adhere to social distancing guidelines, providing students with masks and hand sanitizer to keep them safe.
Schools should modify class times on Election Day so students can vote without missing class or other commitments. Students like Kenzie Cutrone at Northern Arizona University wanted to vote in the 2016 election but were unable to do so due to a combination of class and work on Election Day. Schools must work with their students to ensure they have adequate time within their busy schedules to vote if they wish to do so.
You don’t have to be a big-time celebrity like Frank Ocean or Jaden Smith to encourage young people to vote. You can make a difference in your community through civic action now, whether it be by hosting a voter registration drive at your school, posting the Register to Vote sticker on your Instagram story or gifting your friend a voter registration guide for their 18th birthday.
Voting in 2020 may be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be in the future, and change begins with young people taking action in their schools across the nation today.