Exercising your right to vote is more relevant now than ever in the United States.
With the rapidly evolving political climate and growth of virtual hubs, there is a much greater access to information than ever before. Yet, young people have not fully taken advantage of this right.
Young voters have the power to sway elections. In the 2014 and 2018 presidential elections, young voter turnout, defined as people between the ages of 18-29, was lower than ever before. In 2014, the turnout was an astonishing low of 20 percent although in 2018, the young voter turnout improved to 36 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This improvement was not possible without the education of our rights as United States citizens.
It is important that we register to vote when eligible and that we educate ourselves and vote along one’s line of beliefs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, young people make up over 10 percent of the American population, so it is a necessity to cast your vote.
Voting began with the creation of our country in 1776. During this time only white, land owning men 21 years and older could vote; but this notion would not last very long in the grand scheme of history. The onslaught of the Civil War tore apart the United States officially in 1861. Beyond the physical fighting, the Civil War was a fight for equality and hence, the right to vote.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 which allowed full rights to all citizens; this meant that all naturalized men could vote. Except there was one major flaw — the notion of “all” had not been actualized, and discrimination was on center stage.
In the years to come, the issue of discrimination and equality would play a big part in the reformation of our country, especially with the staunch division between the North and South post the Civil War.
Later, in 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed which allowed all men no matter their background (race, color, or previous servitude) the right to vote. This ratification also brought an onslaught of discrimination that would last for over 100 years beyond this moment in history. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and acts such as the Grandfather Clause prevented minorities from making it to the polls.
This post war era created the foundation of what women, African Americans, and other minorities such as Native Americans would build upon in the fight for their rights. This fight continued into the 1900s, where women were beginning to rise up and protest in the name of voting equality. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified which allowed women across the United States to vote. Four years later, Native Americans gained citizenship and, hence, the right to vote with the Indian Citizenship Act.
Since the time of the 15th Amendment, the political climate changed from the post Civil War era and into World War I, and then The Roaring 20s, which brought the first materialization of women’s rights and independence. Women were trying to break the status quo and did so into the 1960s along with the civil rights movement which challenged segregation and laws that were considered unequal.
In 1964, the Federal Civil Rights Act was passed ensuring that all men and women above the age of 21, no matter what race, education or religion, would have the right to vote, according to the Washington Secretary of State’s website.
This also set the groundwork for the 24th Amendment in 1964, which eliminated the poll tax nationwide. By 1965, the Federal Voting Rights Act suspended literacy tests and put the control of voting registration and voting rights into the power of the federal government.
The final major addition to equality for voters was passed with the 26th Amendment in 1971 which lowered the voting age to 18 years old. The Vietnam War draft created the argument that if men could be drafted without having a say in the government or politics, then they should be given the right to vote. This event truly illustrated why young people matter.
The future is what you make of it, and exercising the right to vote is our duty as citizens of this country. No matter your background, the right to vote is something that all people should respect. We have the power to elect representatives that align with our beliefs; and we can get involved with voting in many ways.
The first is to register, it is legal for everyone to do it and there are many school programs that help get students started. There are also programs such as the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) that is eligible in 16 states currently, which allows people to register to vote while at their local DMV. West Virginia passed AVR in 2016, and has set a statutory deadline of July 2021 for implementation.
Another important part of voting is being educated on current events and political candidates. No matter what party you align with, it is imperative to educate oneself thoroughly. Voting is not only a right many people are proud of but is also a right to the future. The officials elected are supposed to represent the people who vote for them, which provides the vehicle to the future of our nation. Young voters are the future and the best way to represent them is to vote.