Civic duties must be accessible to students

Data gathered from the 2016 presidential election shows that only half of the Millenials, the youngest voting block, show up to vote.

Infographic Design: Kat St. Martin-Norberg

Data gathered from the 2016 presidential election shows that only half of the Millenials, the youngest voting block, show up to vote.

By Lucy Sandeen, St. Paul Academy and Summit School

An effective democracy relies on its citizens’ civic participation, especially that of its young population. Voter participation primarily relies on registration rates. On Aug. 8, the St. Paul City Council confirmed 5-1 an ordinance that requires landlords to supply information to their tenants about how to register to vote at the time of lease signing or occupancy. The majority of the council believes that the ordinance is a minor burden whose beneficial results far outweigh its inconvenience. The ordinance was passed to increase voter turnout in local elections: in the November mayoral elections, only 27 percent of St. Paul’s voting-age population voted, according to the Pioneer Press. This ordinance is a good beginning in the effort to increase voter turnout. However, to truly reap the benefits of an active democracy, schools and colleges must also be required to distribute registration information to their students.

Young voters ages 18-35 make up 31 percent of the voting-age population, yet account for only 19 percent of actual voters, according to Pew Research Center. According to that same study, baby boomers—citizens between the ages of 52 and 70—comprise the same percentage of the voting-age population, yet represent 38 percent of actual voters. As a result, baby boomers have twice the representation that young voters have in elections. In an age with an ever-increasing presence of youth activism and participation, voter turnout for young people is disproportionately low. Data points to registration as the greatest impediment to young voters. According to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, in the 2008 elections, 84 percent of youth who were registered to vote actually voted. If access to registration is made easier by distributing information about registration, our democracy will move towards being a more accurate representation of its people, starting with the youth.

Increasing youth civic participation doesn’t only result in better generational representation. According to a study published in the Cambridge University Press by Jens Olav Dahlgaard, assistant professor in political science at the Copenhagen Business School, which studied the voting patterns of various Danish municipalities, parents with children who live at home are more likely to vote when their children vote. The same study finds that voters who begin voting at a young age, when still living at home, are more likely to develop habitual voting patterns and continue to vote consistently throughout their lives. By reaching out through high schools and colleges, we ensure young voters a lifetime of engagement and voting and increase their parents’ participation as well. While there are many arguments for lowering the voting age, we can start by making sure that those 18-year-olds who are eligible to vote act upon their civil rights.

Requiring schools to provide voter registration information to students is an easy way to ensure lifelong democratic participation and a pool of voters that is a better representative of our nation as a whole. Implementing programs similar to that of the new landlord ordinance in high schools and colleges is simple: schools can bring in representatives from political organizations such as Minnesota Voice to inform students as to how they can register to vote, or they can provide the needed materials for voter registration at their front office. The actions you can take to make this a reality are even more straightforward: call your local representatives and tell them to introduce a bill to require schools to inform their students of their civic duties. In the meantime, take matters into your own hands: volunteer with political organizations, go door-to-door, and register to vote yourself.

This story was originally published on The Rubicon on October 1, 2018.