Building the Democracy We Deserve: Vote Your Values on November 6

This election is our opportunity to harness our power to build the diverse and accountable democracy we want to see.

By Leigh M. Chapman

One of the most critical elections of our lifetimes is one week away. And yes, that election is a midterm election. Next year, Millennials will make up the nation’s largest adult generation, at 73 million strong. Currently, 59 percent of adults who are eligible to vote are Gen Xers, Millennials, or “post-Millennials.”

Forget what anyone else says about Millennials. We have the power.

Yet, despite becoming the largest voting bloc, we have yet to fully realize that power. Turnout among voters aged 18 to 29 in the most recent midterm election in 2014 was 19.9 percent — the lowest in the past 20 years — and young voters cast 21 million fewer ballots than older Americans. However, even with overall low turnout among young voters that year, Black voters aged 18 to 29 had the highest turnout rate among their peers at 24 percent, and exceeded the average turnout rate of their age group by 20 percent.

The 2018 election is our opportunity to harness our power to build the diverse and accountable democracy we want to see. But recent polling indicates that only 26 percent of American adults aged 18 to 29 are “absolutely certain” they will vote in 2018, compared to 74 percent of older voters. This time around, we must show up, speak up, and vote our values on the issues we care so much about — including education, health care, and job security.

Young people have always been at the forefront of civil and human rights movements. Ruby Bridges was just six years old when she integrated an elementary school in New Orleans. John Lewis was 25 when he was beaten as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Dolores Huerta was 25 when she started fighting for economic improvements for the Latinx community in Stockton, California. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were in their early 20s when they were murdered while registering Black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer.

Politicians are actively trying to silence us by creating barriers and obstacles for young people and people of color to vote. Over the last decade, states across the country pushed strict voter ID laws, purged voters from the rolls, closed polling places, and cut early voting. Recently, Georgia’s Secretary of State and candidate for governor Brian Kemp failed to process more than 53,000 voter registrations due to the state’s exact match law. Seventy percent of these voters are Black, and 72 percent are under 40 years old.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Campaign Legal Center recently launched a voter education campaign including a series of text messages and mailers informing affected Georgia voters that they have the right to vote, and their ballot will count if they bring a photo ID or other documentation to the polls.

We cannot let anyone take our vote away. Young activists are leading voices in movements around gun control, ending domestic and sexual violence, immigration, and racial justice. This is our time. Our vote has the potential to transform our nation in 2018, 2020, and beyond. Our democracy works best when more of us show up and participate.

We have the potential to elect candidates who are as diverse as our fundamental values. On November 6, we could vote a record number of people of color into office and build the kind of representation that we deserve. There are a diverse array of candidates who are running on social justice issues that could determine the direction of our country. But our work and struggle are all for naught if we don’t get out and vote our values.

Too much is at stake this election to let others speak for us any longer. Be louder than ever and vote November 6.

Find your polling place here, and contact these hotlines if you encounter problems leading up to or on Election Day.

Leigh M. Chapman is the director of the voting rights program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.