How can I be sure my ballot counts?
Do young people even read middle-aged columnists anymore? For those that do, here are two words I’d like to express:
Why? Because your city, county, state and country need you. Because your generation deserves a voice on Election Day. And because all of us have so much to lose if you don’t.
I know what it’s like to be young, disillusioned and dumb about politics. As a first-time democracy participant during the 1988 presidential election, the 19-year-old version of me voted for Jesse Jackson in the June primary and George Bush in November.
Three decades later, not sure which of those is a more embarrassing public admission.
After that, my voting record turned spotty. In my 20s and early 30s sometimes I bothered to vote, but other times I didn’t. It took until 2000, when the Supreme Court decided who got to be president, for my political apathy to start to erode.
So don’t take this as a lecture. It’s meant as an encouragement for everyone between 18 and 35 (roughly). We need you engaged. There’s simply too much at stake, both nationally and locally.
According to a story by Aleks Appleton, one of several sharp, motivated millennials that populate the newsroom, Fresno County has about 240,000 registered voters in that age group. That’s more than a third of the electorate, enough to wield serious political clout.
But as we know from history, as well as the return rates for mail-in ballots in Tuesday’s election, the youth vote seldom materializes. Instead it’s older Americans who cast ballots in much higher percentages. Which is why so many candidates and their policies are skewed toward them.
There’s only one way for young people to tilt the scales, and it requires being a participant in this messy republic.
It’s easy to be turned off by the current political climate. Although our country has always been divided in its views, the discourse has become increasingly nasty and hateful. We are slow to reason and quick to rage.
For confirmation, just check the Twitter replies to any politician or political journalist.
Because they tend to be less party-aligned, millennials could be the calming influence. In the 2016 election, 35 percent of young voters identified themselves as independent rather than choose a Democrat or Republican side. That’s a 5 percent jump from 2012.
If that percentage continues to climb and millennials become the first demographic in more than 150 years to challenge the two-party system, it’s hard for me to see a downside. I’ll take a wider political discourse over two entrenched positions anytime.
Many young people cite the belief that their vote doesn’t count as a reason for not doing so. Again, I can personally relate. What my older self came to realize is that being on the winning or losing side of any election is less important than simply being counted.
Occasionally, though, a statistically small number of ballots does make a difference. In 2014, the last midterm, Rep. Jim Costa won re-election by 1,334 votes out of a total of 91,220. In this year’s June primary, Tate Hill topped Daren Miller by six votes (768 to 762) for the second spot in the Fresno City Council District 3 runoff behind Miguel Arias.
“Even though there are several instances where their votes do matter, young people just can’t connect the act of voting to a particular outcome,” said Thomas Holyoke, Fresno State political science professor. “And when they can’t do that it’s hard to say why they should care.”
Allow me to make that leap. The most effective way to get politicians to address issues important to young voters — is for young voters to make their voices heard.
Due in part to the recession, many millennials racked up oodles in college debt before entering the workforce. That’s something previous generations, by and large, didn’t have to deal with. And although unemployment rates are low, salaries have in no way kept pace with the rising costs of housing, health care and child care.
Nothing about this situation will change by sitting on the sideline and letting elders make all the decisions. Young people must support candidates they feel best represent their interests, and vote out those that don’t.
That’s how democracy operates, but only voters get to pull the levers.
Voting is inconvenient. Those who didn’t request a mail-in ballot have to show up at a designated polling place. At busy times, you often have to wait for a free station. It would be so much more convenient to host elections online, but the risk of hacking makes that impossible.
Voting is also confusing. There are so many races and so many ballot measures that just knowing the candidates and issues requires a certain level of engagement. (If you don’t care about a particular race, just leave the bubbles blank. No one will know).
But above all, voting is necessary — and I strongly encourage every young registered voter to stand up and be counted. Regardless of ideology or party lean.
Even if you cast votes you live to regret, such as my Jesse and George special in ‘88.
What on earth was I thinking?