Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
College tends to be viewed as the first step into adulthood. Students gain their independence and discover who they truly are. For most, this is their first time away from their parents, and they are eager to prove to the world that their voice matters. But MU students are ignoring their political voices.
At many universities, political groups have become concerned about low voter turnout among students. According to National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, only 42 percent of MU students voted in the 2012 election. Even worse, only 10 percent of MU students voted in the 2014 midterm election two years later.
With another midterm election coming up this November, campuses are attempting to increase voter turnout. The past couple of years have been filled with youth activism, but that has not translated to a high voter turnout. As organizations at MU use National Voter Registration Day to raise the level of engagement, politicians like Sen. Claire McCaskill have used MU to raise voter registration rates.
According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of registered voters felt disinterested or felt as though their vote didn’t matter. In fact, it is part of the reason only 1 percent of 18 to 29- year-olds are frequent voters.
Another major issue, though, is that in midterms specifically, people tend to feel as though their vote doesn’t matter. However, midterms can determine a lot more than people tend to think, and their impact is typically more local. Local elections not only determine the laws within your city, county or state, but also determine who represents you on the national level.
This year, Missouri is one of many states with a senatorial race. This midterm determines which senator will represent Missouri’s interests over the next couple of years. That senator will work with Missouri’s parks, college campuses and businesses -- all things that impact what is going on around us.
During the 2014 midterms, Missouri had the biggest decrease in voter turnout out of all 50 states. Missouri is not the only state that needs more voters to participate, however. Only 36.4 percent of all eligible voters participated in 2014. Recently, new policies have been introduced to help ease the voting process.
While voter turnout is rather low, 74 percent of Americans believe that election participation is a top responsibility of citizens -- even above paying taxes and adhering to the law. Voter turnout in the U.S. is much lower than most other wealthy nations. Compared to Sweden and Belgium, the U.S. is struggling to engage voters for both presidential and midterm elections.
Americans, therefore, recognize the need for voter participation, but still believe that their vote doesn’t make a difference. While college-aged students assume they do not need to vote, these elections can impact them the most.
When a candidate is elected, they determine education and employment policies. The purpose of voting is to use your political voice to influence not just candidates, but amendments and propositions, too. For example, Missouri has multiple ballot measures this year that pertain to medical marijuana, gambling and an increase in minimum wage.
While MU students pride themselves on being involved, they are failing in being politically involved. This is their chance to influence the world around them. This is not about party lines, this is about standing up for what you believe (no matter what that is).
Voting is not only our civic duty, it is our opportunity to take an active role in the political world around us. But before you can vote, you have to take the first step. Register to vote in the midterm (for any state) at https://vote.gov/.