After almost two years of presidential candidates campaigning, politicians stumping, provoking national conversations, and endless drama, the time has come: it’s almost election day. November 8th is upon us , and millions are preparing to exercise a long-venerated freedom to vote. The importance of young people in this election cannot be understated — we will play a huge role in determining the outcomes of the election as well as strengthening our democratic institutions.
As a high school student concerned about environmental sustainability, education funding, women’s rights, and other issues, I realize that my vote holds power, and I have done my best to ensure that my vote will make a difference in the government. I registered to vote before I turned 18, and this summer I became a voter registrar in order to help other young people register. This November will be my first time officially casting a ballot. For the sake of community and democracy, it is essential that other young people also harness their political power.
For one thing, it doesn’t always matter who young people vote for- the fact that they vote at all can be a powerful tool. Records show who votes in each election, including voters’ ages (but not who you vote for). This means that politicians are aware of who they need to target with their policies, and youth are often not included in this influential group. When the youth demographic becomes a more substantial portion of the electorate, politicians will have to turn their attention to issues that may be of more concern to young people, such as funding education, sustainable development, and economic reform.
Furthermore, young voters tend to vote differently from older generations. We represent the most diverse demographic, reflecting the growth of minority populations in Alaska and the nation. Young people also don’t feel the same ties to the two-party system that our parent’s do, and we don’t necessarily vote along party lines. Youth voters choose the issues that matter the most to them, regardless of the political agenda.
And young people right here in Alaska are just as powerful when it comes to local elections.
Our generation will have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions such Ballot Measure 1 – the PFD Automatic Voter Registration Initiative – which would register tens of thousands of young Alaskans to vote. If passed, this amendment would link the Permanent Fund Dividend application to voter registration and efficiently register eligible voters and update voter registration for all applicants. We will also weigh in on the tight race between incumbent congressman Don Young and his opponent, Steve Lindbeck. This year, all 40 house seats and half of the senate seats are up for reelection, and in the midst of our economic crisis, many Alaskans believe that our current legislators aren’t doing enough to solve our budget problems. The best way youth can show our dissatisfaction and make real change? By getting out to the polls and voting.
With so many important issues and electoral races decided this November 8, it’s clear to me that every vote counts. While Alaskans often have little influence over the presidential elections, local races are much more dependent on voter turnout. Just this year, the Northwest Arctic Borough’s house seat was decided by just eight votes, with Dean Westlake beating incumbent Ben Nageak in the primary election. In 2006, the race between Bryce Edgmon and Carl Moses ended in a tie with exactly 767 votes each, and Edgemon was determined to be the winner with a coin toss. In cases like this, even a single voter can make a world of difference.
Regardless of your age, race, gender, or ideology, I sincerely hope you decide to exercise your democratic rights on November 8th and cast your ballot to help determine what the future of our state, and our nation, will look like.