Windows and Mirrors - Generating Generational Voting? - Florence Sprague - October 2022
Do you vote? I hope that sounds like a silly question to ask of an LWV of Roseville Area member. How do you think of voting? Is it a right...a privilege...a responsibility...a duty...an opportunity...a power...a burden? Pointless?
Minnesota is proud of its high voter turnout in general elections. (You can view lots of voter data at https://www.sos.state.mn.us/election-administration-campaigns/data-maps/historical-voter-turnout-statistics/) About 80% of eligible voters voted in 2020. But when one looks at the numbers by age, it is clear that we cannot stop promoting voting.
While in 2018, over 80% of senior citizens in Minnesota voted, only 37% of the newest eligible voters, 18–19 year olds, voted. Maybe that is not as bad as it looks at first glance; it can be hard to learn new habits, but it won’t happen unless it is meaningful to them. On the other hand, that 80% is of a diminishing group; it is losing its power.
The much-flogged truth is that we all live in a world created by those who came before us. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we have the power to change the direction for those that follow us.
The demographics of this country are in constant flux. It has been said the Millennials are the most diverse generation, and it is likely that the named generations following them are still more diverse (https://www.bentley.edu/news/power-millennials-dont-know-they-have). Why should this matter? It provides challenges and opportunities in many areas. You have likely observed that on many touchy social issues that feel like major shifts in attitude to Boomers, the millennials and followers see the norm. They expect a different degree of inclusivity. The younger a generation, the more DIEB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) is not just a cluster of letters, but a normal way of life.
But whatever their political bent, younger generations have a lot of power at the polls if they can use it. For some years the voting turnout of youth has been low (https://iop.harvard.edu/low-midterm-turnout-likely-conservatives-more-enthusiastic-harvard-youth-poll-finds). But while the percentages may be discouraging, in absolute numbers, beginning in 2018, the younger generations have begun to outvote the Boomers and their elders (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/29/gen-z-millennials-and-gen-x-outvoted-older-generations-in-2018-midterms/).
Ben Wessel, executive director of Nextgen America, has said, “The goal of a democracy should be that the people who are participating in it look a lot like the people who live in it. Right now, the electorate is older, Whiter, and wealthier than the population writ large.” Looking toward the future, the Millennials and the alphabet generations have a major stake in this country. Our task is to help them see their role and their power and influence via voting.
It often seems that it can be more difficult for young and BIPOC (black and indigenous people of color) voters to access the system. For some the question is whether to vote at home or at college? For others, how to get off work and get to the polls? Do I have ID, and on and on (https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/02/politics/voting-rights-bill-millennials-generation-z/index.html). There has even been a whole book (which I have not read; no endorsement intended) written about getting the under 50s engaged in voting (Millennials and Generations Z Guide to Voting: What No One Ever Told You About the Importance of Voting, by Jennifer P. Wisdom.)
I have an LWV bumper sticker on my car that says My Power is My Vote. Pass on the message!