With the effects of the division between political parties and the coronavirus pandemic being felt throughout the country, voter turnout for the election in November is a notable concern. As college students and potential youth voters, it is a time when we can make our voices count. However, statistics show that fewer than 50 percent of college students eligible to vote actually do so.
I wanted to find out the reason for the low turnout in our college community, and what Arcadia is doing to motivate students to get out the vote this year.
I had the opportunity to interview Alison LaLond Wyant, director of Arcadia University’s Office of Social Impact & Innovation, which oversees the Arcadia Votes initiative. Arcadia Votes provides students information on the election process and promotes student voting efforts. Alison is passionate about getting students involved as citizens.
When I asked about how to get the college-age population to vote, Alison shared that “first-time voters can be intimidated by the process.” A lot of responsibility comes with voting; you have to know when and where you can vote, who will be on your ballot, and their stances on topics you find important.
Fortunately, the Arcadia Votes initiative offers a website to help students navigate these questions. Alison describes the site as “an information source and support [service] as voters go through the process of getting registered, figuring out the ballot, and making a plan to vote.” For Arcadia students, this will be especially helpful given the increased use of mail-in ballots amid the pandemic, when many are wary of voting in person.
On top of the unique challenges this year, motivating young voters to participate in politics can require particular strategies. Students need to be convinced that they can have an impact on our country, as many students may not believe in the importance of their single vote. College allows students to learn about academic fields, but it is also “a time when people develop their political consciousness,” said Alison. “Your conception of what is possible likely includes a broader scope of imagination and less cynicism than many older voters can envision. The greatest challenges of our world deserve your imagination and your hopes right now.”
The political and social climate of 2020 has exposed many controversial topics in the United States, and many are discovering and voicing their beliefs in response. We’re realizing that our voices count. Our issues have the same validity as the older generations. Our perspectives matter, and we can cause change. If you don’t believe any of these issues affect you, consider your privilege and how the rights you enjoy may be affected for other people.
Voting and involvement in politics may not seem like the most popular activity during your college years, but Alison explained that “youth, in particular, don’t want to buck the trend. They want to be part of something. So instead, if you use the data that more youth showed up to vote in 2016 than showed up in 2012, ask if they want to be a part of the biggest youth turnout in years.”
Though it’s a trend you may not have noticed, participation is increasing in young adults. I hope that as students at Arcadia, and citizens of the United States, we can appreciate our right to vote and engage in our democracy next month. Are you going to join the movement?