The 2016 election cycle has been lit up in a social media firestorm: tweets, memes and YouTube videos abound. The presidential candidates seem to be gold mines for viral content and nothing escapes parody (dig around the internet for “The Time of My Life,” beautifully performed by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in their second presidential debate). From behind our glowing screens, it looks as if we have never been so invested in an election.
Of course, that all may change when Nov. 8 finally rolls around. It is one thing to hit ‘like’ on that meme or share that video on a Facebook feed, but going out and exercising a constitutional right is quite another.
Research seems to support this view. Voter turnout in the United States is notoriously low, especially when compared with other developed countries: in 2012, it hovered around 57.5 percent of eligible voters. Among young adults in the 18 to 24 year age range, it was even lower: 41.2 percent, according to the Census Bureau.
All these statistics are for the presidential election, which receives the most national coverage and usually has the biggest turnouts. In off-year elections for local offices, numbers are discouragingly lower. Only 17 percent in the 18 to 24 year age range cast a ballot for 2014.
The explanation for the off-year election numbers is almost self-explanatory: it’s an off-year election. The turnout is generally lower in all age groups; people don’t think twice about their local offices, even though they should. But why is the turnout so low in bigger elections, especially for young adults? Are we really just lazy? Are all those millennial stereotypes true after all?
The short answer is no. Just as there are bound to be some lazy youngsters procrastinating their way out of casting their ballots, there is also low voter turnout across older age groups. The problem is not merely laziness.
Many young adults are unacquainted with the voting process. It is not surprising that many Americans miss their first chance to vote, because many are unfamiliar with the registration process to begin with. In fact, in 2008, 21 percent of young adults said they were not even registered.
The unfamiliarity with the registration process maybe due to various reasons: they do not know how to go about it, they are unaware of the deadlines, or they do not know how to register if they attend college in another state. The list goes on.
If the main issue is lack of information about the process, then American citizens should actively look for that information. UMBC’s campus is exhibiting a similar lackadaisical behavior. There are barely any posters, very few election events, no rallies and limited student engagement.
It is no wonder that so many young adults sit out. There needs to be a bigger movement to disseminate information about the voting process, not just at UMBC, but at college campuses around the country. There needs to be mass-emails, special events, and more visible posters in common areas.
If these changes are implemented and turnout continues to be as low as it is, then we might have to come to terms with the lazy millennial stereotype. But until then, leave procrastination for your midterm studying and go vote.