The Millennial generation is known for being active when it comes to many of the social issues in today’s society. Yet, according to Assistant Professor of Political Communication Kathleen Searles, they aren’t so active when it comes to showing up at the voting booths.
“Some things we know broadly about young voters is that they are often unlikely to participate, particularly through tradition means,” Searles said. “For example, they are less likely to vote, they are less likely to donate to a campaign, they are less likely to volunteer with campaign organization.”
However, Searles explains that while young voters aren’t necessarily active through traditional means, they are very active though non-tradition means such as social media and online advocacy.
“We seek this kind of tension between young people being involved in politics, but in their own way,” Searles said. “But also not turning up at the voting booths at the same kind of numbers that older people do.”
Searles says because of this tension, reaching younger voters seems to be a struggle that many politicians face when campaigning. This is an issue that LSU mass communication senior Valencia Richardson has been studying, researching and conducting her thesis work around.
Richardson explains that there are many obstacles students face when attempting to vote and suggests that these obstacles are possibly related to why they aren’t showing up to the voting booths.
“Voting tends to be very time-consuming,” Richardson said. “It’s a lot of steps, especially if you are a college student, if you’re an out of state or even if you are an out of region student. The extra steps that it takes to even register to vote, and then to go and vote, creates a lot of barriers.”
One of the biggest issues many students face when attempting to vote is not being registered in the district in which they currently reside.
“I absentee vote and it is such a pain,” Richardson said. “Many people aren’t even prepared enough to do it. And you’re likely not going to do it because it takes so many steps. A lot of people don’t realize the amount of steps it takes to absentee vote.”
However, Richardson says one thing students can do to make voting much easier is simply re-registering in their current district.
“It’s an easy fix if you just register in Baton Rouge and go to wherever your nearest polling place is here,” she says.
“One thing that is being talked about right now is rather than having a traditional voting district, you have what is called a super district. So, you register to vote essentially on iPads and then whatever voting district you’re registered in, your vote would get sent electronically to that district which would make the process of voting a lot easier. You wouldn’t have to go your respective home just to vote.”
Richardson says there is no doubt that this would have a big effect on the amount of students that would vote. She pointed to the presidential primary election that was held on March 5, and explained that many students weren’t able to vote in Louisiana because they are registered as independent.
“You can imagine how many LSU students didn’t vote just because of the fact that they are registered independent,” she says.
Searles says another one of the largest issues is candidates aren’t effectively reaching out to young people.
“We know that one of the things parties are good at is mobilizing their voters,” Searles said. “For independents, if there is a high rate of independent voters on LSU’s campus, there’s no group to mobilize them and there is no group that is reaching out to them.”
Richardson agrees and says candidates at the local level aren’t doing enough target-online- engagement with students. She says this is an issue because most times students have no idea what is going on in an election or that an election is even being held.
Both Searles and Richardson say one of the easiest and most effective ways to get students to vote is to simply ask them. Richardson is part of the organization Geaux Vote LSU, whose main focus is to register students to vote.
“I rarely ever get apathetic pushback when I’m asking people to register and vote,” Richardson said. “I would say about 80 percent of the time students will stop and do it.”
Another issue Richardson’s research points to is the fact that LSU is currently split into two different voting districts. Richardson explains that these districts are split by Highland Road.
“If you leave on the East side of Highland Road, you vote at UHigh and if you live on [the other side] of Highland Road, you vote at McKinley High – which is a significantly longer distance,” she says.
Richardson explained that this splitting of the district is a huge factor in some students voting because there isn’t a bus stop near McKinley High, and McKinley High isn’t in walking distance of LSU. Richardson says creating a centralized voting location on LSU campus would be beneficial, as the Student Union would offer easy access to all students who would like to participate in voting.
While there may be many obstacles facing student voters, Richardson and Searles both express how important it is for students to exercise their right and vote. With the campaign trail heating up there’s no better time to be a part of history – voting our next national leader. For more information on how to register to vote visit GeauxVoteLSU.com.