Young adults are protesting but are not exercising their right to vote

Students considered how their votes can affect the nation’s gun laws.
Photo by Brittany Toombs

Young adults around the country are marching, chanting, and kvetching on social media about easy access to guns, the deportations of their friends, and other public policies they decry as unjust and unwise. What they have not been doing, however, is voting – the one action that would change the policies they claim to hate.

Interviews with Chapman students reveal that many are indifferent to voting in general. They care even less whether a vote locally would make a greater impact on the issues they care about than a vote cast at their previous address.

55.4% of 18 to 24-year-olds were registered to vote during the November 2016 election and only 43% of those who were registered voted, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. During the 2014 Midterm election, only one in six young adults ages 18-29 voted, as reported by the The New York Times. Participation in local elections is even lower.

Some students, such as junior Sociology major Alexis Sanchez, see a connection in their voting behaviors and the world in which they live.

“School shootings and current events being covered in the media motivate me to vote,” Sanchez said. “I think more young people should educate themselves and participate in politics because we influence younger generations who will be the ones in office when we’re old and grey.”

Dr. Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman suspects young people are not voting because they are less knowledgeable about politics.

“Young people have never taken a great interest in politics– the 1960s were an exception,” said Smoller. “Today, however, students are not guaranteed a good job when they graduate. They have to worry about incredible levels of debt and many are working; it is not surprising they are not thinking about politics.”

Despite the low national voter turnout, the first step in changing public policy is at the local level, Smoller said.

A single student vote “won’t influence whether Trump becomes president or not,” Smoller said. “But if a Chapman student ran for city council in Orange and had 300 votes from students, they’d win,” he noted. Positions on the council in Orange are won by a couple hundred votes, according to Smoller. A Chapman student working in city council could repeal the ordinances that some Chapman students complain about, Smoller said.

With the statewide direct primary election coming up on June 5, 2018, students must register to vote online by May 21, 2018, according to the site California Secretary of State. Students who are voting by mail must send in their ballot by May 29, 2018.

Students who are registered to vote in their state of residency can register for an absentee ballot in order to cast their vote on time. Students can also vote in the state they are attending college as long as they have a temporary or permanent address, but cannot be registered to vote in both locations, according to BestColleges.com.

Voter registration materials were easily accessible to students at the National Walk Out on March 14.
Photo by Brittany Toombs

Republican Candidates such as Bob Huff, Young Kim, Shawn Nelson, Andrew Sarega and Steve Vargas are running to be Representative in Congress for California’s 39th District, according to Ballotpedia. California’s 39th District includes Orange, part of Los Angeles, and San Bernardino.

Democratic candidates such as Jay Chen, Gil Cisneros, Sam Jammal, Phil Janowicz, Ted Rusk, Cybil Stee, Andy Thorburn and Mai Khanh Tran are running to be Representative in Congress for California’s 39th Congressional District.

Dianne Feinstein, the United States Senator for California and a member of the Democratic party is running for re-election for the California Senate in the June 2018 statewide direct primary election. Some of the issues Feinstein supports is the DREAM Act, the need for gun reform legislation and is against the GOP tax cut bill, according to the site Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Kevin de León, the President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate and also a member of the Democratic party is running against Feinstein for her position. De León has engaged in the fight against climate change, has passed the California Values Act that restricts the use of state and local resources for immigration enforcement purposes and played a major role in negotiating 30 million dollars to support those who are protected under DACA in California, according to the site Kevin De León for Senate.

The small number of young adults who are voting, don’t realize the impact their vote could have in their home state – especially if they are registered in a swing state.

In the article titled, “How much does your vote count?” Doug McAdam, a professor at Stanford University reported that students mistakenly believe their vote has the same weight everywhere. Other studies confirm that young adults erroneously believe their vote has the same weight in all states. Given the stakes of the upcoming midterm elections, in which Democrats are trying to flip control of the House and Senate, it behooves students who care about politics to think about whether they want to remain registered in their home states or to register in California.

“I think most voters sort (of) have this naive notion. One person, one vote, each vote counts the same. Of course in an electoral college system that’s not the case,” said McAdam.

Authors Daniel McLaughlin and Kate Stohr of “How much does your vote count?” discuss how national campaigns focus on winning votes from citizens of swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, and Florida, as those are states often up for grabs in the electoral college, where each state is assigned a certain number of electoral votes based on population.

“The small margin of voters that push the (swing) state towards the winning candidate are incredibly powerful voters,” Stohr and Mclaughlin wrote.

Interviews with Chapman students revealed little motivation to vote and limited knowledge of politics. Those who were registered said they were registered in the state they are from and had given no thought to registering locally.

“I didn’t vote in the last election because I don’t really know anything about politics,” said Natalie Gartman, a freshman biology major.

Kennedy Hammock, a junior political science major, and California-registered voter said she didn’t vote in the 2016 Presidential Election because she assumed her vote wouldn’t make a difference.

“I’m a Democrat so I knew my vote wouldn’t really make a difference in California. If you’re a Democrat and want your vote to count, you should vote in Florida since it is a swing state and could possibly change the outcome of the election,” Hammock said.

Sophomore strategic and corporate communications major Claudia Tapia said she was dissuaded from registering to vote because she believed the process to be difficult.

“I never took the time to register because I know it takes a long time and I thought it was going to be a tedious process,” said Tapia.

Instead of going through the hassle of filling out and mailing your voter registration form, there are now more efficient ways to register to vote.

According to an article published on CNet titled “Here are the best (and fastest) ways to register to vote,”citizens are able to register online in thirty-one states, including California. You are also able to register through text message by texting the number (384-387), as well as on Snapchat that takes you directly to the TurboVote registration app.

A site called vote.gov also guides you in ways to register, depending on your state of residency.

Katie Whitman & Danielle Konovitch

Leave a Reply