By Katie Hamilton, Policy Fellow, WakeUP Wake County
This was the first year that I paid attention to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. I listened to many political figures speak on the Democratic and Republican stages promoting and criticizing President Obama and Governor Romney. But it was a four minute speech by actress Scarlett Johannson that surprised me the most. Granted, her speech did not move audience members the way Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and Julian Castro did, but it did include a statistic that I found almost unbelievable. According to her speech, less than half of all eligible voters ages 18-24 actually exercise their right to vote. How sad is that?
Throughout the conventions, I shared quotes on Twitter and Facebook that I loved and criticized points I didn’t agree with. As I looked at my feeds, I was saddened to see how many of my friends were too busy discussing Miley Cyrus’s hair at the VMAs to notice that the candidates for leader of the free world were outlining their plans for the next four years.
I was so excited in 2008 when I got my first chance to vote for President. I had grown up under the leadership of two Presidents -- one of whose policies I loved and one whose policies I couldn’t even begin to understand. When I finally was able to voice my opinion and help decide who would lead the country, I was overjoyed. The President helps to implement policies affecting education, student loans, the environment, national security, and the job market. To me, we need to take a serious look at the candidates and what they stand for, considering they have such a profound impact on our lives . It’s our future – right?
Working for WakeUP Wake County -- a local non-profit in Raleigh that advocates for smart growth in our region -- has greatly enhanced my knowledge of government and how decisions get made. While the POTUS has a great impact on our options in life, when it comes to the ins and outs of how we live our lives daily, local government officials have a greater impact. I’m ashamed to admit the 2012 primaries were the first time I voted since the 2008 general election, but I am proud to say in the 2012 primaries I knew what each candidate stood for and against. I wish I had voted in the years between, as perhaps just a few more young Americans votes in local elections could have changed the leadership in our region and state. Perhaps if more than half of all eligible voters under age 24 voted, the NC General Assembly wouldn’t be passing legislation to weaken environmental protections, and maybe Wake County citizens would be voting on a referendum this fall to fund a transit plan that includes a rail line between Raleigh and Durham.
So here is my charge to young voters – don’t blow off the elections thinking they don’t affect you. And, be an informed voter and speak up! Go to candidate forums and talk to candidates. Ask them to answer questions about real issues that will affect your life – like drinking water, transit, schools, urban growth, and traffic. Go online and research the candidate’s stances on issues that matter to you. WakeUP Wake County and the League of Women Voters of Wake County are co-sponsoring a series of candidate forums for Wake County Commission and NC Superintendent of Public Instruction. Check out www.wakeupwakecounty.org to find a forum near you or visit www.ncvotered.comto learn about all the candidates and where to register to vote!