Last year I turned 18 and, for the first time in my life, I will be eligible to vote in a presidential election.
I used to think that the contentious issues I would hear about everywhere from my classrooms to my living room via the cable news airwaves did not directly affect me. But now, as I reflect on one of the most unusual years I (hopefully) will likely ever witness, I realize that I was wrong — I absolutely have a stake in the important issues that I, and the country, face.
From the COVID-19 pandemic upending my lifestyle and threatening the health of my older relatives in the US and India to persistent natural disasters potentially changing the physical landscape of our country, to the countless consequential events I have lived through (9/11 and the subsequent wars; The Great Recession; the rise of Black Lives Matter, to name a few), these all culminate with the personal choice of what I believe is the best path forward and my acting upon that decision by practicing my right to vote.
The decision to vote is daunting. I know that some people in my age group are reluctant to vote; they may not deem it all that important or doubt that their vote actually matters. However, I believe that if we consider what it means to vote and the current context in which we find ourselves, that stigma can change.
✔ Voting is a pillar of democracy
Recent events like the mass protests over fraudulent elections in Belarus remind us that the right to elect our leaders is precious and cannot be taken for granted.
✔ Young voter turnout is increasing
Following a record turnout in the 2018 midterms, young voters are set to vote in even higher numbers and play a significant role in the November 3rd election.
✔ Young people’s votes do matter
Millennials and Generation Z voters comprise about the same portion of the electorate as baby boomers, so sitting out important elections will only leave young people’s futures in the hands of others.
✔ Young voters are ideologically diverse
Young voters are more diverse and tend not to identify as rigidly with a single party, so through voting the government can transform to meet younger voters’ political needs and desires.
✔ The COVID-19 pandemic directly affects young people
Facing drastic changes in schooling and economic struggles in light of the pandemic, young voters can decide which candidate will most effectively help our country rebound.
✔ Young people are showing heightened activism
Issues like gun control and racial justice have mobilized youth from all sides on social media and on the streets, but “the most effective protest is the one we can wage at the ballot box.”
✔ Young people face economic challenges
Young people have the opportunity to make changes regarding health care costs and student debt, which are debilitating to their prospects after college.
Voting at the age of 18 is fairly new. Before 1971, young Americans could not vote until turning 21. They were old enough to get drafted and die for their country during the Vietnam War but not to decide if a war was even necessary. Thanks to the changes, my peers and I have the opportunity to choose what kind of future we want to strive towards as we begin dealing with the responsibilities and complexities of adulthood.
Although I registered to vote when I got my provisional driver’s license in January, I actually didn’t decide to vote until this summer. Truthfully, the entire voting process can feel overwhelming. However, this right, this duty to vote simply boils down to what things in life concern you the most? What solutions work (or don’t) for you? And then putting together a voting plan to act upon it.
For me, reflecting on the issues and pivotal moments that have national or global implications provides me clarity about not just which candidate is likely to fit my needs, but why I should vote in the first place.
Voting Dates to Remember
- October 13: Virginia Voter Registration Deadlines to Register or Update
- October 31: Virginia Early Voting Deadline (Polling Place Lookup)
- November 3: Election Day, polls open 6am-7pm (Don’t forget your ID!)
Mihir Kesavan is a Communications Intern for NVFS. He is a recent high school graduate and is taking a gap year before attending the University of Michigan. In school, Mihir was actively involved in theater where he acted and played percussion. He also enjoys filmmaking and competitive video gaming.