A young family member recently said, “I don’t know why I should vote this election year — the votes of Californians don’t seem to matter.” Unfortunately, voting patterns suggest that a lot of our fellow citizens share that apathy — or act as though they do. Yet, who among us would disagree that our democracy is built on the principle that we are a nation governed by “we, the people” through our right to vote?
Undeniably, increasing the numbers of people who vote regularly — and helping ensure that voters are an informed electorate — are worthy goals for any state. I’d like to focus on the importance of voting for young women, and what they must do to realize their potential political clout.
But first, let’s look at California’s voter participation. The registration rate is more than three-fourths of those eligible to vote. However, voter turnout is low. In the June presidential primary election, California hit a historic low of 31.1 percent of registered voters casting their ballots. And young women, especially Latino, Asian and low-income women, vote in even smaller numbers.
The lower likelihood that such segments of the populace will vote is probable reason that legislators are more responsive to their higher-income constituents when casting their votes. Yet, the so-called millennial generation, young women between 18 and 31, could become as potent a force in the outcome of elections as women from the baby boomer generation. In fact, Millennials’ participation rate in the 2008 election was 51 percent!
Would women vote in greater numbers if the political representation of women was more proportional to their numbers in the general population, which is more than half? That may well be. While California can boast of much higher representation by women legislators than the country as a whole, women are only slightly more than one-third of our state’s national representatives and less than one-third (28.3 percent) of our state legislators. Yet, increased participation of women as elected representatives has notably increased legislation dealing with women’s concerns, such as fair pay or Title IX.
In order for young women to be motivated to vote, they must recognize that their votes influence policies such as these, affecting them and their daily lives. Issues particularly affecting youth include college affordability, health care and health-insurance access, and social agenda issues about which young women often have passionate views, such as the rights and dignity of gay youth and environmental justice.
Related proposals are being debated and decided every day by elected lawmakers — too often by a male majority seemingly disinterested in the best interests of young women. One need only recall the recent efforts to deny women access to affordable birth control and to defund clinics that provide reproductive health-care services to lower-income women to be shocked into awareness of what’s on the line in the election this time around.
For young women newly or recently eligible to vote, the time is ripe to become knowledgeable about issues that will shape their futures and about where candidates stand on those issues. There are indications that many women are doing just that – informing themselves, voicing their opinions and becoming part of a movement for social progress and the advancement of women. Becoming an active voter may be one of the most underutilized yet most effective ways to create positive change. That opportunity is there for young women to snatch up. Take advantage of that opportunity! Take up the voting habit. Make it a lifelong exercise every election year.
Make your vote count.
Elaine Sierra is a member and past board member of the Nevada County branch of the American Association of University Women and past member of the Public Policy Committee of AAUW of California.
In order for young women to be motivated to vote, they must recognize that their votes influence