Ever since young Americans gained the right to vote at age 18 in 1971, we’ve failed to capitalize on it. We’ve been left as a traditionally underrepresented group in elections, even though many issues concern us just as much as they do our parents and grandparents. As an age group, 18- to 24-year-olds consistently lag behind the rest of the electorate by as much as 25 percent in voter turnout.
Many of those working to remedy that statistic have identified the fact that the large number of unregistered students is a prevailing reason for low voter turnout among the younger demographic (with the obvious exception of the last presidential election, which showed a marginal increase in young voter turnout).
Thus, efforts to get students into the voting booths are rampant — I’ve received three voter registration applications since the beginning of the semester, and first-time voters especially are being targeted various efforts to boost voter registration.
Still, the answer to our unflagging political apathy is not going to be answered by registering voters en masse. The quality of our voters is more important than the quantity.
Voter registration should not be as big a concern as voter education. Creating a few thoughtful, knowledgeable young voters is more important than registering hundreds of indifferent voters who will end up voting on party lines or on popularity.
To truly represent the concerns of young adult voters, we need to know what the candidates say about relevant issues, and such information should be readily available to young people.
Common reasons for not voting are excuses such as “I don’t know enough about politics” or “I don’t really care how the election turns out.”
Neither of these issues is addressed by registering more voters; in fact, simply registering young people only reinforces this cycle of political apathy.
These newly registered voters will not participate in elections with informed intelligence, but their registration will be considered a victory by statisticians whose goals are only to register voters and not educate them.
In trying to register so many young adults to vote, people think that this age group will become sufficiently interested in politics to research issues and make thoughtful choices on Election Day.
But there’s a disconnect in this logic: Registering a voter does not necessarily ensure political participation, or, more importantly, intelligent political participation.
What often happens is that a student will register to vote through these popularized voter registration drives, but come Election Day, he will end up not voting — or worse, voting without discretion. “Yeah, I remember hearing about that guy on a commercial. He’s the only one I’ve heard of. OK, I’ll vote for him.”
The issue is compounded in midyear elections, where voters know even less about the candidates or the issues.
This upcoming election will most likely tell the same story — young adults, who so proudly mailed in those voter registration forms, will, if they end up voting at all, play “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” and blindly choose which candidates to support.
Another resort for the uninformed voter might be strictly voting on party lines.
Younger voters tend to associate more with the Democratic Party, and though mass registration drives might work in the favor of democrats, they do little to increase the amount of civic awareness among our age bracket.
Essentially, young people who vote and fail to research the issues become pawns in the games of party politics.
I’m not saying that an average middle-aged American is necessarily going to know more about Proposition 23 than a college student, but what is important is that young adults are often told to register to vote when they really don’t want to. If they don’t care enough to register on their own, then will they care enough to research the issues and vote intelligently?
I’m all for young people voting. We just need to be smart about how we increase voter participation among youth — blanketing voter registration forms and trying to get students to register to vote might be part of the solution, but it’s not all of it.
Adeel Mohammadi is a freshman majoring in biological sciences.