TeenLife Blog

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Register to Vote: It REALLY Matters

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Young woman standing at an outdoor voting booth

Young people have a lot at stake when it comes to the future of this country. We’ve certainly got more on the line than our parents or grandparents or most of the talking heads who yell at us on TV every day – we’re the ones who have to live in the future that our politics create.

Voting is the most important way to make sure we have a stake in that future. But whenever we discuss it, the conversation becomes either despondent (my vote won’t matter anyway!) or full of grandstanding (my ideas are purer than your ideas!), and it can all seem a little overblown.

It isn’t.

Of the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks 26th in voter turnout.

Only 60.2 percent of eligible U.S. voters made it to the polls in 2016. Of that population, 18-to-29-year-olds were by far the sparsest group: only 43 percent of voters under 30 cast a ballot in the last presidential election.

Everyone should have a seat at the table, and right now, we’re not fully claiming ours. It’s time to change that.

There are a few simple ways you can help make sure that the country hears you and your fellow young Americans loud and clear this November:

Register Online

Unless you live in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, or Wyoming, you can register to vote online. It takes two minutes. Go do it. You have definitely spent longer editing a tweet before.

Know Your State’s Rules

  • If you do live in one of the exempted states listed above, head over to vote.gov and figure out what steps you need to take in order to register. In most states it’s a matter of mailing in some paperwork or heading to a government office. If you’re in a by-mail state, the site will guide you to a printable registration form and tell you exactly where to send it.
  • Certain states allow you to “pre-register” if you’re under 18. You won’t be able to actually cast a vote until you turn 18, but it will help get you over the hurdle ahead of time. In California, Colorado, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington, you can submit the necessary paperwork when you turn 16. In Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia, it’s 17. The National Conferernce of State Legislatures has details.
  • Take note of your state’s voter registration deadline. In many cases, it differs depending on your registration method; if you miss the online date, for example, you might still be able to register in person. Write these dates down, put them in your phone calendar, do whatever you need to do in order to hit them.

Get Your Ducks In a Row

  • Registering to vote is a great first step, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t follow through. If you register with your home address and then can’t get home to vote, you’re going to need an absentee ballot. Most states have a separate deadline for absentee ballot requests, which you can submit online. Vote.org is a great resource.

Register. No Matter What.

If for whatever reason you miss the deadline to vote this November, you should still register. This November’s midterm elections are important, but there will be more important elections. If you miss the boat this time, register ASAP to guarantee that you get on it next time.

Worried your vote doesn’t matter? That you aren’t informed enough? Register anyway.

Why does your vote matter? It may not be common, but it’s not unheard of for one vote to sway an election: As you might remember from AP U.S. History, Marcus Morton won the Massachusetts gubernatorial race back in 1839 by a single vote.

And if you’re worried about being uninformed, good on you. As voters and citizens, it’s our responsibility to collect information before heading to the polls. But no one will ever know everything. You can always read up on issues you care about if you’re worried you might have a blind spot.

Nearly 75 percent of young Americans feel like the U.S. government isn’t listening to them, according to a 2016 survey by GenForward. This is your chance to be heard.