When I was about 13, I told my parents that all I wanted for my 18th birthday was to register to vote. However, as the years ticked by and I got closer to that promised age, the sad truth began to dawn on me: Not everyone felt as strongly about voting as I did.

The staggering lack of voter turnout in 2016 – especially among 18- to 29-year-olds, who turned out at a shocking 46.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 10 points below the already abysmal 55.4 percent of all eligible voters – seemed to me like a crime against humanity. How could so few people care? Presented with an opportunity to decide their own future, almost two-thirds of the country sat out. Was I making too much out of nothing? Of course, at the time I knew little to nothing about voter suppression, foreign interference, decades of building disenchantment on the part of the general public and all the other factors that crashed together that November in a discordant fury. All I saw was a country at an era-defining crossroads, and a bunch of adults who didn’t seem to care. I knew I had to do something, but being 15 years old my options were limited. So I waited.

Then, on a frigid day last December, I was at a climate change rally in Portland with some friends and I spotted a little table in the periphery of the goings-on that said in big, blocky letters: REGISTER TO VOTE TODAY. I was 17 then, but I felt drawn to the table regardless, and that’s when I learned about pre-registering. If I was going to be 18 by the general election next November, I could register and vote in the primary elections. I was ecstatic. I pulled my friends over to the table and together, our fingers numb, we registered to vote, and that night, I circled my calendar for my first election, March 3.

For me, just voting wasn’t enough. I wanted to be a more active member of the voting public, so in February, in the midst of the rising panic surrounding the coronavirus, I helped organize a partnership between my school and my local election clerk that saw a few juniors and seniors assist at the primary election, both as poll workers and ballot counters. Then in July, my mom and I stayed at the polls until close to midnight, counting hundreds of absentee ballots.

As the November election edges closer, I hear the same tired words: “Young people can swing this election,”  “young people hold the power this time around,” but invariably in years past, the election has come and it just doesn’t happen that way.  Encouragingly, turnout among voters aged 18-29 has risen substantially, in the past few years – up to 35.6 percent from 19.9 percent between the 2014 and 2018 midterms, the largest jump of any demographic – but we still trail behind pretty much every other group. Democracy requires participation.

If you’re reading this and you’re on the fence about voting, whether you’re young or old, Democratic, independent or Republican, think about 13-year-old me, with all my idealistic faith in our country’s voting system, and think of all the other young kids around the country who look to adults with faith and belief that they are leading us to a brighter future. Think of the America you thought existed, or the one you wanted to exist, when you were young, and on Nov. 3, 2020, vote.

Inform yourself, make sure you’re registered, request a mail-in ballot if you can’t vote in person, work the polls if you have the time. As a nation, we can and must do better. I implore you: If you love this country and want to see it change for the better, vote.

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