Dear mil­len­ni­als: Your voice is vi­tal on Elec­tion Day

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Local - BY MAREK WARSZA­WSKI marekw@fres­nobee.com

Do young peo­ple even read mid­dle-aged colum­nists any­more? For those that do, here are two words I’d like to ex­press:

Please vote.

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 who 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?

ALEKSAN­DRA AP­PLE­TON aap­ple­ton@fres­nobee.com

Stu­dents with Mi Fa­milia Vota draw chalk Get Out the Vote slo­gans on Edi­son High School’s main quad on Thurs­day. When a group of 40-or-so Edi­son stu­dents were asked who thought the up­com­ing midterm elec­tions were im­por­tant, fewer than 10 raised their hands.

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