Last spring, as I casually perused social media, I came across an article from the United Kingdom titled, Stand Up and Be Counted: A Message to Young Female Voters. The tagline read, “Women aged between 18 and 24 are the least likely of all to vote in this general election.” I clicked on the link, intrigued as a young female voter and wondering if the same is true in our country.
While the voting statistics of the United States vary from those of the United Kingdom, they follow a similar trend. Young women in our country tend to vote in slightly higher proportions than young men. While the gender disparity is small, the age disparity is noteworthy. In the 2012 Presidential Election, 56.5% of the total population voted. However, only 38.0% of those ages 18 to 24 voted, and only 46.1% of those ages 25 to 34 voted. On the other hand, 71.1% of those ages 65 to 74 casted a vote.
Voting is a privilege and it is not one that many Americans have always had. When our country was founded in 1776, Protestant white men who owned property could vote. Over the next eighty years, states slowly eliminated religion and property ownership voting restrictions. Then, after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870. The intent of the Fifteenth Amendment was to extend the right to vote to all men: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Unfortunately, until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a century later in 1965, many minorities were still unable to vote because of discriminatory administrative practices such as literacy testing. Furthermore, women have had the privilege to vote in the United States for a short ninety-six years.
It matters if young people exercise their right to vote in this election. Millennials, defined as people between the ages of 18 and 35, compose about 31% of the overall voting population in the United States. The Baby Boomers, people between the ages of 52 and 70, also make up approximately 31% of the electorate. With our strength in numbers, Millennials can actually influence the outcome of this election. Unfortunately, Millennials are often overlooked in campaign outreach and campaigns can and must do a better job of engaging young voters. However, the shortcomings of campaign strategists do not excuse young people from voting. In fact, being overlooked should encourage us to vote more than ever, to encourage politicians and campaigns to pay better attention to us in the future.
Politicians are strategic. They will focus their energy on issues important to voters. If young people fail to vote, it follows that politicians are less likely to focus their energy on issues important to young people. A 2016 poll found that young people ages 18-30 are most interested in issues regarding education (the cost of college), economic issues (jobs, minimum wage, income equality, paid leave), immigration, foreign policy, and guns. These issues, as well as many others, matter to young people. We need to vote so politicians know we care.
I am surrounded by young people who love their families, who invest in their friends, and who legitimately want to see this world become a better place. We need to show up at the poles and make our voices heard. We need to respect our ancestors who fought for the voting rights of minorities and women. We need to show that we care about the nation and world in which our children will grow up. We need to acknowledge that voting is a privilege. We cannot sit back and let the rest of the nation decide our future. Voting is easy. First, register to vote. Then become an educated voter (it takes less time than you think it does; see footnote nineteen for non-partisan information sources). Now is the time to educate ourselves, decide what we believe, and vote.
Be informed when you head to the polls. The Montana Voter Information Packet provides detailed information about initiatives on the ballot.
By Victoria Dettman
 Isabel Hardman. Stand Up and Be Counted: A Message to Young Female Voters, The Observer (April 20, 2015, 5:48 p.m.) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/20/stand-up-and-be-counted-young-women-voters-xxvote.
 See United States Census Bureau, Reported Voting and Registration, By Sex and Single Years of Age: November 2014, http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-577.html (in the November 2014 election, only 14.7% of men ages 18–24 voted, while a slightly higher proportion, 17.2%, of women ages 18–24 voted).
 United States Census Bureau. Reported Voting and Registration, By Sex and Single Years of Age: November 2012, http://www.census.gov/data/tables/2012/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-568.html;
 Mass Vote, History of Voting Rights, http://massvote.org/voterinfo/history-of-voting-rights/.
 Id. (Maryland, in 1828, was the last state to remove religious requirements and North Carolina, in 1856, was the last state to remove property ownership requirements).
 Full text found online at http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/frohnen-the-american-nation-primary-sources.
 Primary Documents in American History, 15th Amendment to the Constitution, https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/15thamendment.html.
 U.S. Const. amend. XV.
 See South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966) (upholding the Voting Rights Act of 1965); see also Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966) (holding any person who completed the sixth grade could not be denied the right to vote simply because he or she cannot read English).
 The 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, ratified on August 18, 1920, gave women the right to vote. U.S. Const. amend. XIX. (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”)
 National Public Radio, Millennials Now Rival Boomers As A Political Force, But Will They Actually Vote? (May 16, 2016, 2:40 p.m.) http://www.npr.org/2016/05/16/478237882/millennials-now-rival-boomers-as-a-political-force-but-will-they-actually-vote.
 USA Today, USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll: Millennials’ Agenda for the Next President (Jan. 11, 2016, 2:28 p.m.) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/01/11/poll-millennials-agenda-president-rock-the-vote-republican-trump-sanders-democrat/78556154/.
 U.S. News & World Report, What Young Americans Think on Top Issues Facing the Country (July 12, 2016, 5:22 p.m.) http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2016-07-12/what-young-americans-think-on-top-issues-facing-the-country (“the poll of 1,965 adults age 18-30 was conducted June 14-27 [, 2016] using a sample . . . which [was] designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population”).
 Montana residents can find the voter registration form online at http://sos.mt.gov/elections/Officials/Forms/documents/Voter-Registration-Application.pdf or see if they are already registered at https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/.
 Montana’s Voter Information Pamphlet can be found online at http://sos.mt.gov/elections/2016/2016-General-VIP.pdf. For National issues see http://www.factcheck.org and http://votesmart.org.