It’s no secret that youth voter turnout is low. While the youth voting bloc is the largest in the country, we vote at the lowest rate. This is particularly a problem among college students, who face the issue of not knowing where and when to register, and where to vote come Election Day. And often these questions can be left unanswered until it’s too late, and students are no longer able to vote because of missed deadlines.
Democracy functions best when all citizens lend their voice with their vote. Regardless of ideology, affiliation, or age, we better ourselves when all voices are heard. Other countries enjoy consistently high turnout rates (Norway, Sweden, and Belgium hover around 80 percent), incentivizing elected officials to represent all of their constituents. Here, turnout barely reaches 60 percent, and we need to do better.
There are numerous ways to increase voter turnout. Automatic voter registration, same day registration, early voting, and more polling locations are all solutions that states around the country have implemented to improve turnout rates. Students, in particular, could benefit from the latter, especially since most universities around the state don’t have on-campus polling locations (including the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, where I’m a student).
Polling locations used to be located in restaurants, stores, homes, and other community gathering places, and still are in some parts of the country, like Club Lucky in Chicago. This achieves more than just convenience; it creates a culture of democracy.
People in all voting blocs, all across the country, need to reclaim their identity as voters. We’re a nation founded on the ideals of the democratic process, but the process itself doesn’t define us: the people that participate do.
At UConn, I’m a part of a student funded, student run, non-partisan, non-profit statewide organization called ConnPIRG. Our goal is for students to find their voice during their years on campus, and have them work towards goals that they’re passionate about.
Every election cycle, we run a non-partisan campaign called the New Voter’s Project. So far we have registered almost 800 students to vote in the midterms. However, the goal of this campaign goes beyond registering students to vote; we are building a culture around voting.
Beyond registering our classmates, we want students to form their identity as voters, and we are working to see an increase at the local polling location. To do this we are doing things like having a Ballot Ready party to ensure students have a vote plan. We’re having a party to the polls, so students can celebrate democracy. We’re having countless tables, going door-to-door in dorm rooms, and working with professors to make sure their students are registered to vote.
In 2016, after registering over 2,400 students to vote, we also saw an increase of 23 percent at the polling location. I’m extraordinarily proud of what we were able to accomplish in our own community, and I look forward to seeing youth turnout increase all over the country as more young people find their voice and mobilize to the polls. We need a larger shift, and a great place to start is passing more policies that aim to increase voter turnout, but it starts at home.
It starts with us.
Justin Kaiser is a student at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and a member of UConnPIRG.