Voting and Civic Engagement: A Conversation

In an increasingly divided country, Her Campus at Loyola University Maryland set out to have a bipartisan conversation surrounding the importance of voting and civic engagement. Two campus leaders graciously agreed to put aside political differences to engage in an awesome conversation encouraging you to get registered and VOTE! The conversation was informative, respectful, and even fun at times as we cracked jokes and made fun of all of the chaos around us right now.

 

Jess Clancy is a sophomore and Vice-President of Loyola Republicans from Marlton, New Jersey. She is an accounting major and information systems minor as well as a Sellinger Scholar, a member of Women in Business, and has worked with Loyola Sports Medicine in what she calls “the coolest work-study job I’ve ever done.”

Emma Sarazin is a junior and Co-President of Loyola Democrats from Napa, California. She is a global studies major with minors in French and political science in the honors program. She is also an Evergreen, on the executive board for Do Better Loyola, has participated in the dance company, and is a self-proclaimed “big consumer of coffee, sunshine, and baked goods.”

 

Her Campus: Why do you think college students/young adults are notorious for low voter turnout?

Jess: I actually have a few things that I thought about for that. First off, there seems to be this, for lack of a better phrase, “too cool to be a part of that” mindset generally among college students, a mindset which I honestly thought died after I graduated middle school, but apparently, it still exists. It’s not “uncool” to vote, by the way, especially in this current climate. Secondly, young adults don’t think that their individual, or even respectively as an age demographic, votes matter; especially when they’re siding with a candidate whom they already know isn’t going to win in the end. Sometimes people don’t even care about the election at all because it usually doesn’t affect them personally or because they don’t care about politics at all, being apolitical or an independent. And sometimes people either literally don’t have the time or at least feel like they don’t, to actually sit down and do their research on candidates about which to then have well-informed opinions.

Emma: I would echo all of those, and then also add that the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic hoops to jump through that it takes to register to vote can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and confusing! For example, I was trying to change my address and I knew I needed an absentee ballot, and of course, the website to register to vote was down the week that everyone was trying to access it which was really annoying. There can be added levels of complication that require some follow-through, which I don’t know about you, but for me can be a bit of a challenge. I think this can dissuade people from registering to vote and then getting their ballots in on time. I think another thing that’s really common right now is this feeling of not wanting to play into or participate in a broken “establishment”. I think there’s a lack of trust in the political process. I think it’s common to find that there are people who are really vocally passionate about certain issues that do not see how it directly connects with voting. I also think a lot of people, not even just exclusively young adults, have kind of given up on politicians and Washington D.C. in general, feeling like politicians are just there for the money, fame, and status they can gain without really being there to serve their constituents. However, not voting is not a form of protest in this case. It just means you have no say whatsoever.

 

HC: Why do you believe it's important for college students/young adults to vote?

Jess: So obviously, to start off, it’s of the utmost importance for everyone to exercise their first amendment right given by the constitution. And actually, I just found this out, but this year’s election alone is pretty important for our specific age demographic. So anyone who is 18-29 years old actually makes up quite a significant portion of the total voter population; if you look on the census website or other relevant websites, it shows you how from 2016-2018 there was a significant increase in young voter turnout- where approximately 36% of people ages 18-29 voted in the 2018 midterm election- which was amazing, to put it lightly. It certainly shocked all the older people, who were all like, “Wow, the youth are actually going out and like, voting!” So basically what all that means is that if exactly 100% of us gen Z-ers and millennials turn out at the polls or send in mail-in ballots, we’d be the major deciding factor in the popular vote of this election. That fact proves just how important next month is. Also, elections in general affect so many crucial aspects of our lives- education, healthcare, changes in or additions to public/government policy, and especially the economy after everything that’s happened with COVID-19 so far; who you vote for determines. What matters most though are your values, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on, and that the candidate of your choice’s values should most represent everything that you stand for.

Emma: I think that when you come out of college you come to voting with a different perspective- whether that be a newfound passion or a much clearer view of how policies impact you. So for most people the first few years that they’re out of college may be the first time they’re paying a significant amount of taxes or having to find housing in a certain area where the price is really exorbitant or they’re living in a new state or community where different issues become apparent to them. Another example is that a lot of people come out of college with a significant amount of debt. They might see that in a lot of other countries, student debt or just the price of college is much lower- or free!. I think a lot of issues that drive people to vote become more tangible or feel more “real world” after you come out of college. Voting provides an opportunity to have a voice in changing that reality or maintaining it. Another reason, like Jess said, is that we are a big block of voters. Young adults and college students are often known or mocked for our idealistic and optimistic points of view when it comes to politics. I think we can use our power in numbers and in ideas to make change. We can use the fresh ideas and look at the world and our country through the lens of the way it should be, not how it has always been, and vote that way.

 

HC: What can civic engagement look like for college students/young adults beyond just voting?

Jess: I would say if you’re able to, and obviously it’s hard right now with the pandemic, but go out and volunteer! There’s plenty of opportunities and so many resources out there- phone banking, you can go door knocking for people, or even work directly for a campaign. There’s plenty of opportunities to be civically engaged virtually from home right now. Of course right now just look at the sheer power that social media has had especially on our generation. You’ve even got kids under 18 who are already showing out as little political activists, small yet powerful voices for the change they want to see in the world, by using their platforms to speak their truths to power and action, and they’re not even eligible to vote yet! This is at the very heart of what democracy is, after all! I say keep at it! As we speak, if you were to log onto Instagram right now and view the people whom you follow’s stories, I can guarantee you that at least 85% of the stories you see will feature something related to politics/current events. So many right now are talking about the importance of voting there, and helping register those who don’t know how the process works, because, let’s be real here, these bureaucratic processes can get pretty complicated when it comes to this kind of stuff. So many resources right at your fingertips! With all that being said, don’t be afraid to voice your political opinions on any platforms- maintaining, obviously, a sense of respect and dignity and not being harmful or insensitive to others.

Emma: I think the first thing, like Jess said, is to use social media for the productive content it produces. There are definitely ups and downs when it comes to the political side of social media. I think there’s a lot of information and content out there that can spark important and necessary conversations. It can be as simple as encouraging people you know to vote, that can be really helpful or when voter registration, absentee ballot requests deadlines are. In a virtual environment, I definitely think it’s more challenging to volunteer but there are lots of initiatives and campaigns out there reaching out to young people. I also think being informed of what’s going on around you in the world is a great way to be civically engaged. For me personally, that means being tuned into lots of different news sources and looking at where it’s coming from and what biases might be or the “spin” of the story. I would also say just listening to people and being open and respectful and inclusive in the way that you’re voicing your opinions. Civic engagement includes engaging with people that do not and might not ever agree with you. If there is one thing politically interested people can agree on, it should be the importance of voting. Starting there is a great jumping-off point. I think Jess would agree (she nods) it is so divisive right now and if you’re on the “other side” those people just don’t want to talk to you or hear what you have to say. I’m more with the standpoint that I can listen, I can disagree, I could maybe not disagree more, but I’m still going to listen to you. I think the beauty of democracy should be that we all have different ideas and beliefs and you can still be a respectful human being and try to see things from a different perspective. You don’t have to agree, but maybe you can understand that an issue is more nuanced than you once thought. That being said, it is important to know where your personal boundaries are when it comes to your morals, values, and beliefs. This is where I hope civic engagement can go.

 

HC: You both said social media and I’ve been seeing so many things like the new trend where you post to your Instagram story with the state you’re registered to vote in and tag other people to show that they’re registered to vote and that is civic engagement at its most Gen-Z to make this a trend.

Emma: I feel like my life’s mission is just to make voting cool. Who you vote for is none of my business but could you just, like, vote for me? It’s fun, it’s trendy, it’s hip!

HC: It’s going to be on HerCampus.com! Amazing. Lastly, what would you say to someone, a young adult specifically, who may feel disillusioned from voting or the political process?

Jess: That’s a really thought-provoking question and also a tough situation there. First of all, I’d definitely acknowledge why they feel that way about not wanting to vote, especially if their main line of reasoning is complete distrust of government and/or career politicians because I can’t lie, I actually agree with that! I feel their pain in a way, and it’s totally valid. There’s only so many promises that some politicians break right before your very eyes before you just throw your hands up and say, “Alright, that’s enough!” But then I’d gently remind them of the fact that voting still is the most important right that we as American citizens have. This example is also for those people who may say that their individual vote doesn’t matter- if you look at the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore was literally (puts fingers together) this close to beating Bush. One to five individual votes could have tipped the scale in Gore’s favor, but you all already know how the story goes. We could very well be seeing a repeat of 2000 come next month, given how already back-and-forth the election race has been between Trump and Biden thus far. Shameless plug from Hamilton, I know, but “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” The littlest things you do can make the biggest impact! So your individual vote definitely does matter; you can influence how you want to see things done in government and how it can inform public policy and most importantly, your future!

 

HC: I definitely think validation is important. Seeing how someone could be in that position of apathy but then like… BUT…

Jess: ...however… definitely still vote.

Emma: To go off of that I think it’s important to be reminding people that it is a right to vote but it’s also, to some unfortunate extent, a privilege. There are people who live here who don’t have the right to vote, who are not allowed to vote for whatever circumstance, and marginalized communities whose votes were hard fought for. And even now there are some states with either very overt or under the table voter suppression- if you can vote and vote safely, that is something you should take into consideration when deciding if that’s something you’re going to participate in. I’m also trying to not get too philosophical here but voting is how democracy works! We’re able to have different opinions and make those opinions heard and see how they impact our nation and our local communities. It can really affect who we are as a country and how we treat each other on a human level. If you don’t feel compelled to vote for your own interests, know that someone out there who can’t vote has really vested interests in these issues, and you can possibly use that as your own motivation or “why”. That feels like a very Ignatian thing to do! Your vote really matters.