Why we don’t have a ‘culture of voting’ for young people

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing if the people who are so turned off by political discourse stay home today, or so says one of those public radio bloggers. You know how they are.

Rich Barlow, writing on WBUR’s Cognoscenti suggests that those people are so ignorant about public affairs, “it’s best they don’t share their misinformation at the polls.”

More in Common finds that a chunk of the Exhausted Majority, amounting to 41 percent of Americans, is ignorant about public affairs, and if you share my view that the Trump presidency is a cancer on our country, this ignorance is the carcinogen. He benefited from historically high turnout in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, with study after study confirming his voters were motivated by racial resentment. In a sense, they were well-informed: They wanted a racist president and got him.

But Trump played them for suckers, making myths about an invasion of illegal immigrants (wrong), many of them rampaging criminals (wrong). His non-xenophobic lures were just as phony, from his infrastructure plan to that better, cheaper health plan he promised to replace his African American predecessors.

If people who fell for these cons skip the midterms, which party gains? Some uninformed voters lean liberal on immigration, poverty, and healthcare, the study says, so their absence could crimp Democratic support. A larger number, however, are “likely to say that being white is necessary to be American and that people who hold other religious views are morally inferior.” Trump’s boys and girls!

Jamelle Bouie, writing on Slate, offers a somewhat different perspective although Bouie suggests cutting a little slack to young voters, the least likely to vote today.

There’s an instability that comes with being young — you move a lot, for one thing. Young people are less likely to drive an in some states a DMV-issued ID is required. One young person told the New York Times it was easier getting her medical marijuana card than registering to vote.

Bouie says the system of voting isn’t designed to encourage young people to vote.

Our system has adopted universal suffrage, which points toward open and easy access to the ballot, but our heritage in political exclusivity—where voting was once a privilege reserved for property-owning white men—continues to influence our handling of elections. Voter identification laws are tied to a sordid history of discrimination and vote suppression, but even procedures as uncontroversial as voter registration contain assumptions about who should participate. (Indeed, voter registration was first developed as a method to keep recent immigrants and the poor from the ballot box in Northern cities and was used similarly against black Americans in the Jim Crow South.) Our voting system is tilted toward people with stable, conventional lives. And that, overwhelmingly, is who participates, producing a conservative bias in the status quo.

Our government is less representative than it could be because of our voter-unfriendly policies. So even if you disdain young people who can’t find the will or time to vote—even if you’re unsympathetic toward the uninspired or the uninterested—you should want to fix this problem.

“Moralism and appeal to civic virtue may move some nonvoters off the sidelines in time for Tuesday’s elections, and if they live in states with same-day registration, they’ll be able to cast a ballot,” Bouie says. “But that ‘if’ gets us to the larger issue: We will only have a culture of voting and high turnout if we build one. And if there is apathy and disdain for political participation, we should understand that it’s likely produced by institutions and systems that too often do everything they can to keep people from having a say in their government.”

Related: 12 Young People on Why They Probably Won’t Vote (NY Magazine)