“Let's make voting sexy. We have 12 months to get these young people tuned in, turned on and out to the polls.”
No, these weren’t lines recited during an SNL skit. They were words written in a recent op-ed in The Hill by Tara Sonenshine, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2012 to 2013.
But what does she mean?
Sonenshine doesn’t offer any suggestions for *~hotline blinging~* political participation, but we can only speculate about what a sexy voting campaign would look like. Do we print out pamphlets in bright Netflix red? Set up polling booths that give away vouchers for free chips and guac from Chipotle? Would pumpkin spice scented absentee ballots make the youths of America interested?
To paraphrase the immortal words of Regina George, stop trying to make voting "sexy" happen. It’s not going to happen. Here's a solution instead: Let's actually include young people in the conversation. Sure that may seem #basic, but as one Miami University student smartly points out, it's kind of obvious.
The statistics Sonenshine cites aren’t inaccurate: Low voter turnout among youth is a problem. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only "19.9 percent of 18- to 29-years old cast ballots in the 2014 elections" -- the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded in a federal election.
However, my issue with Sonenshine’s piece is that she incorrectly assumes most young people are apathetic, when in reality, they just want to be heard. Sonenshine’s words insinuate that they are too dumb to understand why voting is important, so let's make the concept ?hot? instead. “Leaders make laws that affect your right to choose, your future pay, the minimum wage, climate change, war and peace, and every issue that you can think of," she writes. I’m pretty sure most elementary school-aged children understand that indeed, leaders make laws that impact everyday life.
This is where social media -- that terrible thing that destroys young minds -- can help. Unlike the government, it offers an opportunity for public figures and brands to be authentic and transparent with their followers -- something presidential candidates can take a cue from. It extends a landline to reach young voters, if used correctly like some already have.
Hillary Clinton is the first presidential candidate to officially sign on for BuzzFeed's college tour, an interview series that coincides with its news app. Bernie Sanders' campaign has honed in on Reddit, whose community largely skews towards users between the ages of 18 and 24. Over 36,000 students have signed up to volunteer with his campaign. Young voters may historically be flaky when it comes to casting their vote, but their passion has always been there -- it's just going to take more than beer koozies to compel young people to get to the polls on Election Day. It's going to take trust. And in a political system that is both operated and catered to wealthy white dudes who are dismissive of most demographics than their own, young people haven't been given much reason to.
Being informed is sexy. Exercising your right to vote is sexy. Young people don’t need to be persuaded using gimmicks -- they need information. They are adults, so let's treat them as such. They don’t need people to speak for them. They can speak for themselves -- just give them the opportunity to do so.
But if you want to give me free chips and guac too, I won’t complain either.