The Montrose County League of Women Voters recently invited local youth 16 to 21 to participate in poster and essay contests, to write about and/or represent the importance of voting. Two winners were selected, and awarded prizes for their entries. They represented a welcome enthusiasm and thoughtfulness about their right and intention to have their voices heard.

Historically, the young do not vote as often as others. In 1976, in one of the first elections to include 18-year-old voters, only about 13% of voters 18 to 24 years old actually voted. But by 2000, that number had risen to 36%, and by 2008 the number of younger voters tripled. It’s expected that those 18 to 29 will make up 10% of the 2020 vote.

Some structural barriers have kept younger voters from the polls since the 1970s. Registration and voting processes differ greatly. The two-party system, many feel, limits real choice. The issue of money in politics is discouraging. More mobile, they often have fewer or weaker ties to local issues and candidates. There is an often-significant civics knowledge gap. Youth often focus more on social issues and activist causes rather than politics. They are also strongly influenced by the voting behavior of their elders. It may be on you, Mom and Dad!

This election cycle will differ greatly, following a 100-year high in younger voter turnout in 2018. Recent legislation reduced barriers to registration and voting. Youth, reacting to the pandemic, the economic crisis, and issues of racial justice, have connected social issues and politics. They have activated and demonstrated increased willingness to show up, to volunteer in campaigns and other civic activities, and they expect elected officials and candidates to show up for them. A survey in August showed that 83% of youth believe they can make a difference. Another survey in 13 battleground states showed 77% of youth “definitely will vote” and their motivation is “10 out of 10.”

The League, and others, have made great efforts to reach out to new and potential young voters with information and support for their participation. Through print and social media, and by collaboration with youth-focused partners, we’ve encouraged youth to become informed about the issues impacting their lives and futures, to use their voices, their votes. They will live their tomorrow with the decisions made today. And, they know it.

Jan Edwards, President

Montrose County League of Women Voters,

serving also Delta County

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