A Non-Voter Explains the Youth Voting Paradox

I didn’t vote.

As somebody who likes to tout himself as a politically-minded person, it was surprising to myself, and to those I told, that I opted not to partake in the process that forms this country’s democratic foundation.  I tried to reason that I was just busy the day of the election, but this was untrue; I walked past the polling place in Mesa Court at least three times with no schedule holding me back.  I attempted to justify my negligence by saying that midterm elections in California don’t matter as much given the state’s composition of Democrats, but even then there were a number of hotly-debated propositions that required collective public judgment.

And while I feel less guilty given the fact that I am amongst the 80 percent of arrogant, snot-nosed millennials that, midterm election after midterm election, refuse to vote, I still have no real explanation as to why.

Political analysts continue to ponder the source of this apathy.  There’s always the favorite theory that millennials are simply too caught up in their insignificant social media dreck to stop amassing their hoard of selfies and read a newspaper.  And…actually, that’s the only theory.  When tuning in to listen to the exalted pedagogues of generic cable access television, they are always quick to blame “our generation” for our purported intellectual shortcomings, usually with a number of sweeping generalizations.  There’s never any actual probing of the issue; any conversations relating to millennial voter turnout typically amount to dismissive finger-wagging and a lot of smirks.

But this still leaves the question: why is this happening?

It could possibly be that most people are focusing on the mounting academic expectations of our country’s high school system and thus don’t have time to be interested in politics while growing up.  It could also be the fact that, in order to help make ends meet in our current economic system, an unfortunate number of teens need to get jobs to either support their families or to be able to eat in college, and thus have no moments to spare to consider the pros and cons of voting for one nondescript politician over another.  It, perhaps, could be the fact that the current voting system has become so easily manipulated that people don’t even bother heading to their local polling place before it closes abnormally early or aggressively demands that they show auxiliary voter identification.

Maybe it’s because growing up in an environment where most adults talk down to and patronize youth about their burgeoning political understanding makes them disinterested and discouraged early on, thus perpetuating the cycle.  Just a guess.

Even though there are a number of reasons as to why millennials don’t vote, the only real solution to the problem is to just … vote.  It’s very easy to just casually say that, but it’s true; we, as a generation, really enjoy complaining about the government but also allow the people who make it awful to continue to get voted in. It’s unrealistic to expect each and every person to become immediately engaged in politics, especially considering how bleak things have been in the past couple of years, but the only real way to improve things is to vote.

And while I acknowledge that it is inherently hypocritical for me to sit here and preach about improving this country’s current political climate given the fact that I myself did not vote, I understand that I too need to vote even if I think that my one ballot won’t affect the overall outcome of the election.

If every single one of us inhibits ourselves from voting simply based on the belief that our ballots don’t matter, then nothing will truly change and we’ll be stuck complaining about present circumstances when we could have easily done something to make a difference.

 

Evan Siegel is a first-year literary journalism major.  He can be reached at ejsiegel@uci.edu.