Edward Rogers ’22
December 26, 2020
At what is supposed to be the most exciting and promising time in our lives, so much turmoil has brought everything to a screeching halt. The pandemic has dramatically upended our high school, collegiate, and professional careers. While some of us have gone back to school and work, others of us remain at home indefinitely. We have also witnessed the cruelest acts of racism across the nation resulting in the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Amidst our disgust, we have stepped up to fight for racial equity with advocacy on social media and socially distanced, peaceful protests.
What’s more, the recent 2020 election presented the opportunity for those of us ages 18-29 to use our right to vote and decide the future of our country. It is such a valuable privilege, and never has the vote felt more consequential. Issues such as healthcare, the racial wealth gap, student debt, and career outlook have immense impacts on our futures, especially now. In a progressive city like Durham, the passion feels tangible, and the action is clear. So many of us have fought for the change we want to see, but we must address the elephant in the room: Young people just do not vote. The question is, why?
Hi! My name is Edward Rogers, and I am currently a Junior in the Upper School. This semester, I have undertaken an independent study on the issue of young voters: why they haven’t voted historically, why they don’t vote now, and how we can shift this frustrating paradigm. While I was not old enough to vote this November, I worked for progressive political action locally and nationally by phone and text banking, holding voter registration drives, and organizing discussions with officials such as Durham Mayor Steve Schewel and NC Governor Roy Cooper.
Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported as many as 53-56 percent of eligible voters ages 18-29 voted in this presidential election, which is around 10 percent higher than in 2016. This development is certainly encouraging, but there is still a serious discrepancy between the number of young people that can and do vote. The amount of young people who vote in local races is also much lower than in the Presidential race. With such a passionate base of young people in America, why is this so?
As a young person, one of the most frustrating misconceptions is that we do not care about politics. Adults too quickly dismiss our inaction for indifference. The truth is that we have immense amounts of passion, especially for social issues such as climate change, gun control, and racial equity that directly affect our lives and futures. This passion is clear among the students at DA—I partook in the student-organized 2018 Middle School walkouts for gun control, watched the sustainability committee grow at the Upper School, and now see “Black Lives Matter” proudly etched across the walkway in our quad.
However, many of us feel jaded and disenfranchised by a system that was organized by the wealthy and powerful and continues to ignore struggling communities. Our country’s political system was established by rich, powerful, white men who sought to keep themselves in power. Their policies have had damaging effects on marginalized Americans, and it has taken centuries to reverse their impacts. With a judicial and legislative system currently stacked against progressive change and run by the most privileged, a single vote feels insignificant. A frustrating number of candidates simply adhere to this unjust system as it is and do not seek to change it in any significant way.
In addition, many young people feel that voting is so complicated that it isn’t worth their time. Voters need to know where they will be during voting, choose their form of voting, and know where to go to the polls or drop off their ballot. Simple enough, right? Not for young people. Many of us balance jobs, school (often away from where we’re registered), family life, and other interests. It can be very difficult for us to find time to organize a voting plan.
Many states also abuse their power in determining voting regulations. Specifically, in many southern and rural areas, there are immense amounts of voter suppression—specialized school IDs, proof of school enrollment, and proof of residency, not to mention long lines due to inadequate public infrastructure. These modern, more nuanced forms of disenfranchisement effectively complicate the voting process and send the message that we don’t deserve to share our voice. All of the roadblocks restricting voting can make the action feel like too much effort.
In many ways, the 2020 election was a showcase for why young people don’t vote. Joe Biden’s victory seemed like the bare minimum for people concerned with progressive platforms. In North Carolina, it was disappointing to see our state go red for President Donald Trump once again due to the constant lying and abuse we have endured for four years. These results were very difficult for me to digest personally because I had been volunteering for Joe Biden for months, and my hours of work now felt inconsequential.
It was also frustrating to see Trump’s ally, Senator Thom Tillis, win re-election, but not completely surprising after Cal Cunningham carelessly jeopardized his candidacy with an affair. It now seems likely that the U.S. Senate will remain red, and the U.S. House will barely remain blue. These results indicate that it will be very difficult to pass meaningful legislation that will help people during this time of crisis. As progressive young people, we have reached a frustrating standstill. So, where do we go from here?
For me, this election was a wake-up call that there is so much more to do to ensure that young people can fairly take advantage of their right to vote for progressive representation. I had naively thought that the paradigm would undergo a major shift in this election, but that was not to be. Change takes time and persistence. At this point, we must work toward action. Two pivotal Senate races are going into runoffs in Georgia, and there are also many more races coming up in 2022 (including another Senate race in North Carolina!). These upcoming races are exciting opportunities to enact more change in our state and the country.
While it is hard to feel empowered to vote when there is so much working against so many of us, we must fight on. We need to use the injustices in our system as even more motivation to get involved. There is so much work to do on the local and federal levels to improve voting accessibility and equalize the system. We must also continue to inspire others in our close communities to imagine a more equitable, progressive future. If we can make it easier to vote and connect with people about why their vote can make a difference, we can change the paradigm. For young people, the fight carries on.