At Rowan College at Burlington County’s Educate Your Vote forum, local politicians emphasized the importance of voting and engaging in the political process.
MOUNT LAUREL — It’s not uncommon for young people to stay home on Election Day and feel disconnected from the political process.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle sought to change that mindset before an audience of their young constituents Thursday at Rowan College at Burlington County’s Educate Your Vote forum.
The panel included New Jersey Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, Burlington County Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs, Medford Lakes Borough Manager Robert Burton, New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and Assembly Majority Office Deputy Executive Director Mickey Quinn.
The politicians wasted no time in encouraging young people to vote, particularly those who don’t typically take part in the process. Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z — the generation after millennials — make up 59 percent of the voting electorate as of April, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. But in the 2014 midterm election, when such younger generations accounted for 53 percent of eligible voters, they cast just 36 million votes, or 21 million fewer than older voters in the Boomer, Silent and Greatest generations.
“Too often I think we see ourselves in this electoral process of not being the instruments for change and what our democracy is all about,” Singleton said. “Our democracy only works, and it is only at its best, when everyone is engaged in it, regardless of who you vote for.”
Voting isn’t just important during a presidential election, the panel agreed. Gibbs noted that every year is an election year in New Jersey, and voters should be familiar with down ballot candidates who may have more of an impact on their everyday lives.
The Burlington County Board of Freeholders, for example, are in charge of maintaining county roads and bridges that voters may take to work each day.
“Local government touches your life every single day. Despite not knowing what a freeholder is, we impact your life every day,” Gibbs said. “If you’re not voting and you’re not participating, volunteering or serving on boards and committees, then you’re not going to have a say in what gets prioritized.”
Once a young voter decides to go to the polls, Burton urged them to educate themselves on the candidates and what issues they stand for. He recommended doing one’s own research rather than relying on the opinions of those around them.
“Going into your polling location and pulling that curtain shut and looking at the candidates and pushing a button, and bang, you’re done, that’s it — I don’t necessarily want you to do that,” Burton said. “But what I want you to do is be engaged in the process and really start to understand there is no foresight in walking in unprepared and pushing the button.”
The event was organized by RCBC senior Christina Miller. She considers herself to be a non-traditional college student at 43 years old, but she was passionate about doing what she could to encourage younger generations to vote.
“I’m hoping just one student took anything we said and now they want to become involved and engaged,” Miller said.