How to Participate in Voting When You’re Under 18
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
1. Understand the importance of the youth vote.
Voting is arguably the most essential and powerful right of an American citizen. Even at a young age, this ability must be treasured. While it may not be as extravagant as a Sweet Sixteen or as exciting a driver’s license, voting is a rite of passage that empowers the people to elect those who run our country, a decision that directly impacts everyone’s welfare, the nation’s economy, foreign relationships, and more.
For centuries, the youth have, in large part, neglected their right to vote. In fact, according to the United States Census, in the 2016 presidential election, only 46.1% of people aged 18 to 29 voted. This age range has had the historically lowest voter turnout of any age group. Nevertheless, young people wield immense influence in elections, as demonstrated in the 2016 presidential election when young voters helped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton win New Hampshire with just a handful of votes (1). More recently, in the 2020 election, candidates have focused their campaigns on the youth, such as Bernie Sanders’ free college education plan. The youth have been a target in numerous presidential campaigns because candidates have realized the true impact of the younger generation of voters. With more and more plans and policies concentrated on health care, climate change, education, and immigration laws, each vote will influence the way our country is run for years to come. Thus, millennials and Generation Z will directly experience and endure the consequences of actions made by our government today. President Trump outlined his plans to strengthen the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to build a wall along the border of Mexico and the United States throughout his campaign and presidency. These policies have immediately affected young people as debates among immigrant students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have shaken the nation. It is necessary that young people everywhere, even those under the minimum age, understand the true power and meaning of the vote because whom they elect will instantly transform their lives for at least the next four years.
2. Educate yourself on our government and develop your opinions.
Our federal government is a complex system consisting of hundreds of people of all identities. There are three branches of the government that work together to shape our nation. The president collaborates with Congress to pass laws and make major decisions. You should know the jobs of each branch and have a basic comprehension of the ins and outs of the government. This kind of knowledge will help you understand how your vote, in particular, will lead to the decisions that the president, Congress, and others make.
Furthermore, know where you stand. Research the political parties and figure out with whom you identify on certain national topics. Study each party and determine where you lie on the political spectrum for particular issues. Read articles from both Democratic and Republican authors and journalists. This kind of extensive research will help you form educated conclusions that you can use while speaking with others and voting when the time comes. I dive deeper into the principles of choosing a candidate in my “5 Steps to Voting in a Presidential Election” essay.
3. Educate your parents and loved ones who can vote.
I have two immigrant parents. My dad is just barely fluent in English while my mom can hardly understand a simple conversation. Their imperfect English has curated a situation where it is difficult to learn about American politics. Their Korean news channels have more to focus on than just the United States' government. Each day, I attempt to translate what I have learned from scrolling through articles and watching news segments with some insight and unbiased opinion. Because I am not of age to vote, providing my parents with this kind of information ensures that they make educated choices on their ballots when election days roll around.
Like me, you have a direct influence on your parents and relatives, whether or not they are foreign-born. By consistently discussing each candidate and their actions, you can educate those around you and promote holistic, informed opinions that will surely sway voting decisions. However, make sure that your priorities are to educate rather than attempt to change other people’s beliefs. Recognize that giving insight and discussing ideas are not equal to pushing your beliefs so that others will agree with you.
4. Encourage your friends to look into voting and politics.
While it may not be a simple, light-hearted conversation, discussing politics with your friends is a vital way to spur interest. As stated before, the young voter participation is unimaginably low. By encouraging others to research and learn about the process of voting and our government, this depressing statistic can be raised. Take time out of lunchroom gossip conversations to talk about President Trump’s latest tweets. Debate about gun laws and abortion. Indeed, it may seem taboo and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, these uneasy and even awkward discussions will lead to more of the younger generation feeling connected to national issues, and it is likely that your friends will listen to you rather than reading a thousand-word news article. But, once again, ensure that your goal is to educate others. Do this by pointing them to diverse sources of information but also reasoning with your own opinions. Encourage open and honest discussion to let people make up their own minds.
5. Familiarize yourself with the voting process in your specific community and state.
One of the most common reasons why voter participation is so low in the United States is because voting is “complicated” and “inconvenient” (2). Understandably, at 18 years old, the act of voting, including filling out voter registration forms before a strict deadline with all the necessary identification and standing in line for hours at an election booth, can be somewhat daunting. Thus, in order to avoid any chaos or mistakes, preparing yourself is key to a smooth Election Day. Make sure to research the specifics for your particular state. Figure out if registration can be done online, find the closest booths to your home, and gather all your necessary identification. Consider where you will be in November after your 18th birthday. Perhaps, you’ll be on a college campus. Take all these factors into thought to ensure your voting abilities. Here’s an informative guide on how to vote in each state → https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/voting-rights/