In the aftermath of the gubernatorial election, I’m taking stock of what it really means to be part of a community. It’s a question I struggle with on a near-daily basis and especially when I head to the polls.
Too often it seems like there is no real choice at the ballot box. Especially during the mid-term elections in Prince George’s County, swaths of candidates run unopposed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing: it’s hard enough to keep up with the contested elections! But, it makes me think about where the real change happens, where real access into the political process begins.
For me, at least, it started at home.
When I was a child, my mother brought me along to the polls. I wanted to pull all the levers (this was before the rise of the electronic voting booth) and know who she was voting for and why. Voting became something to look forward to, a grown-up privilege much like driving a car or using a credit card. In other words, something that mandated responsibility.
In high school, my friends and I eagerly anticipated our eighteenth birthdays and the upcoming presidential election. While we were probably a little more feverishly political than most teenagers, the fervor was evident in the school halls. We were about to be adults! Responsible! Able to change the world!
Of course, real life (adult life) is a little more complicated. None of the candidates matched exactly with my political views, and change seemed slow and unwieldy if not nonexistent. It was a tough lesson, but a necessary one. The adult world was much more confusing than I knew.
My next foray was into activism, where I campaigned for various causes and generally drove my family and friends up the wall. If the politicians weren’t going to change things, I was just going to have to do it myself. But bit by bit, I learned how to navigate a complicated sphere in which money far too often counted more than people.
There’s no one right way to be politically involved, but the voting process is a fast track into becoming engaged with one’s community. When citizens become frustrated with the candidates on the ballot, they might realize that they could run. Or, they could work on the campaign of a candidate who represents their views. There are larger and smaller ways to be active that are no less significant, like calling and emailing representatives or attending city council meetings. Or even public forums.
At the Nov. 3 City Council meeting, most Councilmembers arguing in favor of giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote in City elections. Many suggested it would increase young people’s civic engagement and increase overall voter turnout.
In past City elections, voter turnout has been abysmal. It’s certainly not just us. According to the Pew Research Center, only about 60 percent of eligible voters turned out for the most recent presidential elections. The number for midterm elections is much lower, hovering around 40 percent.
Part of growing up and moving into adulthood is realizing that “adult” is just a word. After all, just last year our Congress shut down the government.
Delineations by age are somewhat abstract and arbitrary. Community doesn’t begin and end in the voting booth, but trusting young people with the responsibility of determining their elected officials implies that we think they are no longer children, that they are ready to begin making more difficult and complicated decisions, and that those decisions matter.