It’s October 11. You have six days left to register to vote in the state of Massachusetts.
Getting young people registered is more than half the battle against low voter turnout in the 18-24 year old age bracket. In 2008, only 48 percent of 18-24 year olds in the country voted. In the same year, 87 percent of that registered age group voted. The facts are clear: The problem lies in getting young people registered, not getting them to vote.
Easy access to registration is what we need to reach younger voters. My belief that voter apathy, not registration, is to blame for low voting turnout is backed by a study from the Campus Vote Project revealing that in 2010, less than 13 percent of college students said the reason they didn’t vote was because they were not interested.
Recently, a student representing Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren spoke to students before a class about the importance of registering to vote. She handed us voter registration forms — with the candidate’s flyer stapled to each one. Taking time out of your day to help students register to vote is certainly a noble effort. However, I strongly believe the effort would be more effective if it were made by non-partisan groups. It is discouraging to force a candidate flyer on a potential student voter while they are deciding whether or not they are even going to register.
Generation Opportunity, a campaign targeting young potential voters, launched in June 2011. It is headed by Paul T. Conway, Kellyanne Conway, and Matthew Faraci. All three are staunch conservatives involved solely in rightwing organizations, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republican National Committee, Republicans for Environmental Protection, The Heritage Foundation, and Americans United for Life.
On its website, however, Generation Opportunity claims to be a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to educate and organize young Americans on the challenges facing our nation.” In an obvious act of deceit, Generation Opportunity created its Facebook page with the title “Being American” and then boasted over 600,000 “likes” supporting its group. Facebook users who “like” Being American are not necessarily supporters of Generation Opportunity, although such high social media numbers certainly bolstered media interest in the group. Generation Opportunity exposed its true interests through a series of press releases presenting skewed statistics about young people’s support of conservative agendas.
“Young Americans are looking for economic opportunity and they know the solution rests with job creators in small business and companies—not government,” wrote Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity.
It seems that disconnect lies in a lack of trust — trust in the voting system, in political candidates, and in the motives of outreach campaigns trying to register young people to vote. Students have grown up in a plague of doubting politicians and the government — the Age of Wikileaks, if you will. Whether voter outreach campaigns are overtly backed by politicians or they falsely claim to be non-partisan, America’s focus needs to be on registering voters in spite of of party ties.
The trust of millions of young people in the U.S. must be won back earnestly, not wooed. Nationwide campaigns emerge with every Presidential election, claim to be nonpartisan, reach out to student-aged voters, then bombard them with material that is the very definition of partisan.
Partisan voting registration campaigns certainly makes a difference, but looking at the staggering statistics shown regarding voter turnout versus registration, their efforts are either not working, or not enough. No one should have to take a candidate flyer just to get a form to register, nor should they have to read conservative articles just to be a part of a “non-partisan” electoral outreach program. Support your favored candidate and support non-partisan young voter registration programs, but please—don’t let the two coincide.