If you ask young (would-be, should-be) voters what they care about, they can easily answer. They care about all the things that make their way to the ballot, and all the issues that need serious attention and problem-solving. But if you ask if they vote, the answer is largely no.
As a professor of journalism and English at Pikes Peak State College, I have had many discussions over the years with our young community members about their passions, perspectives and motivations.
The college is chock-full of students studying health care, criminal justice, business, education, construction, the arts. They know they want to make a change and work in fields that they deeply believe in. They pose myriad questions about local issues like educational inequities, free-lunch programs for K-12 schools, mental health resources, veterans’ affairs, homelessness/living unsheltered, the minimum wage, LGBTQ+ support, public transportation, fire dangers, and water issues in Fountain. I mean, the list really goes on and on.
But, when it comes to local voting and civic engagement, the vast majority of young adults report being uninterested, unmotivated and uninformed.
I can’t say that I blame them — 18- to 25-year-olds have grown up watching some of the nastiest political tension in American history. They report feeling disenchanted, and rather than join the fight, most just opt out of paying attention. Our country’s focus on national politics has become all-consuming, diverting our attention from local politics and local issues. And we’ve allowed large infotainment channels like Fox News and CNN to fulfill the role of news gatherers for us — forgetting our hard-working, reliable journalists here at home.
For many young community members, the obsession with national politics is exactly the reason they don’t show up to vote locally. They think it’s all the same. They don’t quite realize the power we have here at home, or the value of their voice. They are unaware of Colorado’s progressive voting process and how easy it is to get involved. When exactly did we stop teaching them? When I turned 18, voting was more common than not in my peer group, and most people over 40 can say the same. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
Throughout the city, many of us try. This is evident in outreach efforts, volunteering, campaign work, local news coverage, and some school programs. You can often find a young voter out in the wild if you search the Student Government Association groups in high schools and colleges — though they are rarer and rarer by the day. At PPSC, we create non-partisan events to reach out to students and help them engage in the voting process. Still, it’s not enough; we, as a community, must do more.
If there’s any hope for reigniting local involvement, then we need to reach out wide and far to help guide our young citizens into a healthy voting habit. If you know a young adult, please take the time to engage in discussing local issues and the importance of voting. Dare I say, talk about politics at the dinner table? Help teach them how to register and where to find good information. Ignite their spirit.
It’s time to reanimate the only system we’ve got. And, if we need to change this system, then people must get up and vote to make that happen, too. Everyone needs guidance in this process, and there are resources aplenty. Nov. 8 will be here quickly with important issues on the ballot — many of which young people are interested in — so let’s help them show up.
Sarah McMahon, a Westside native, runs the journalism program at Pikes Peak State College, and regularly participates in young-voter outreach in her classes and at the college.