Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010, now hold a power so great, they can change the future if they chose to harness it.
I experienced this power on May 22, 2018, when Georgia held its primary election for the gubernatorial race in November. This was a special day for me, as it was also the day of my high school graduation, so I made sure to cast my ballot early in the morning. When arriving at the school before being transported to the Georgia World Congress Center, I spoke to dozens of members of my Southwest DeKalb High School graduating class, and asked who had gone to vote, or who had planned to go vote.
The responses I heard troubled me deeply. The majority of students were unaware that an election was taking place. A few people asked me how they could vote, only to be disappointed when I explained to them that the registration period had ended a month earlier. This series of conversations shocked and disappointed me. The irony of the situation made it worse. Many of those students complain about the actions of elected officials, or express concern for things that elected officials directly control; yet when given the opportunity to choose officials, they ignore them.
Most students, during their senior year of high school, will reach the legal voting age. Registering to vote is a simple process. In Georgia, voter registration can be completed online from any device. Many believe that it is a complex process, requiring them to fill out forms, submit documents, and visit specific on-site locations. This misunderstanding is an extreme danger to our society, as it is preventing youth from voting, and having their interests represented. If you have a driver’s license, or a state-issued identification card, you can register to vote right now at https: www.mvp.sos.ga.gov in five minutes and start making a difference today.
From January to when the registration period closed, I encouraged people of legal age to register to vote. I and other youth activists made phone calls, sent links to the voter registration site, and attempted to create a voter awareness program for the students at our school. During this time, I realized that many high school seniors don’t understand the importance of voting. They said things like, “It’s only one vote,” and, “It doesn’t affect me anyway.” What they fail to realize, and what older generations must help them understand, is that every major social change in this country was achieved through grassroots movements.
We live in a nation predicated on the idea that one person can make a difference. So when hundreds or thousands come together to take any single action, the results of their efforts are multiplied. If every teen voted in the first election after their 18th birthday, the turnout would be thousands more, enough to change the outcome of elections, and would help the interests of young people become priorities for our elected officials. Through this power, young voters could make history in ways that may seem to them unimaginable.
On Election Day, the winner is determined by which candidate can best mobilize their support bases, not the one with the most overall support. This is because of our nation’s problem with low voter turnouts. By increasing the Gen Z turnout, currently the lowest among active voters, elections would likely be decided by the cumulative impact of Gen Z’s new voters. This would increase political efficacy among youth and adults, and also force campaigns to appeal to a younger audience. The result would be elected officials who are held accountable to all constituents, young and old. This accountability would affect policy decisions, urging politicians to consider their younger voters and their responses to decisions the officials make.
The most important changes this would bring are the increase of political activism among Gen Z, and a politically educated youth. These intangible changes would set the precedent for the generations that will succeed Gen Z.
This activism is vital because elected officials shape how Gen Z will live for most of their adult lives. Suddenly, the youth will have opinions on important issues, and will be more moved to take actions to fix them. The youth of Gen Z can be a powerful coalition that will bring positive change for the present, and set the stage for their own future.
Gen Z, we now have the chance to wield the power of the ballot. It’s not too late to register for November’s election. It is time we take action to determine how we will live our adult lives. It is only now, through our actions, that we may lay the foundation for a better world for our children.
Garfield McIntyre Jr. is an intern in the office of DeKalb County’s CEO. He will enter Hampton University in Virginia this fall