It will be 50 years since the ratification of the 26th Amendment on July 1st of this year. Despite being one of American history classes’ most unheralded, this amendment was a landmark Constitutional addition which lowered the eligible age of voting from 21 years old to 18 (https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xxvi).
There were continuous pushes for legal adults to be able to vote in elections dating back to the end of the second World War. The idea of “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was integral to the first few youth activists. Eventually, this became the rallying cry of students during the backlash against the Vietnam War (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/voting-age-26th-amendment).
With the struggle that many endured to secure the right for all young adult citizens to participate in elections, one might expect the younger generations to continue this enthusiasm about voting and turn out in high numbers each election cycle. However, this is not the case for the time being.
Millennials and Generation Z were set to account for 37% of the 2020 electorate according to Pew Research (https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/01/30/an-early-look-at-the-2020-electorate-2/). In actuality, the two generations accounted for just 32% of voters in the 2020 general election according to exit polls (https://www.cnn.com/election/2020/exit-polls/president/national-results). This is lower than the voter turnout amongst 18-39 year-olds in both the 2008 (https://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/results/polls/#USP00p1) and the 2016 (https://www.cnn.com/election/2016/results/exit-polls) election (36%). In addition, only 49.1% of 18-24 year-olds were registered to vote as 2018 census data observed (https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-583.html).
While this past election cycle was certainly one that was unprecedented in American history due to the presence of COVID-19 forcing states, localities, and the political parties to adjust their election plans, overall turnout nationwide (66.2%) was the highest this nation had seen in over 100 years (http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present). This number is even more exasperating because, due to the nature of the coronavirus and its increased danger for the older population, young people dying of COVID is not the reason why their turnout numbers are so low (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1191568/reported-deaths-from-covid-by-age-us/).
Of course, this past election cycle could have been an anomaly due to a number of factors, namely the involvement of former President Trump, who also had one of the highest turnout midterm elections in American history (http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present) (49.4%). Despite this perceived aberration, there is no sign that people will slow down their voting efforts despite President Trump now being out of office.
Thus, given how it was a right that millions had to organize for, it is incredibly salient that my young colleagues do not take the anniversary of the extension of our voting rights for granted. It may seem cliche to point out that the future is young people, but that is and will continue to be the truth.
It is no secret to me with how many young people I interacted with before, during and after the 2020 Presidential election, that the youth are concerned about the future of this country. While some are consumed with more frivolous issues such as the new controversial Cardi B song or the next TikTok dance trend in which people gyrate their hips, others have deep concerns about racial justice, climate change, and their future place in the economy.
Moreover, due to these anxieties surrounding the future of American politics, younger generations are seeking out politicians that propose addressing their concerns. Unfortunately, many that I have talked to do not believe that the people in power, such as President Biden and Vice President Harris, do a good enough job representing their interests.
Seeing this, my fellow young Americans need to make sure our beliefs are reflected in our politics. Thus, we should take the 50th anniversary of our gained suffrage as a reminder that the onus is on us to guide this country and shape it towards how we want it to be. We must show up and vote as though our future depends on it, because it does.
Charles Beresford is a senior Political Science major and Economics minor at Clemson University in South Carolina. He is an intern with American Forum. He looks forward to using knowledge from his major to assist in the writing of editorials and the running of the social media.