• Sophia Denaro

How You Can Make a Difference in the 2020 Election (under 18 ideas included)

Have you registered to vote? What else can you do to get involved in the political process?

This year’s presidential election, like all presidential elections, will be a significant event for the United States. While many of us pay somewhat less attention to campaigns for other government offices, these can be quite important, too. After all, we live in a democracy. We have an inalienable right to choose leaders to represent us in our government and can suffer serious consequences when we have “bad” leaders with policies and/or behavior we oppose.

But how and when can we make a difference in government elections?

Register to Vote:

Many of us who have turned 18, have had the opportunity to register to vote. Others of us who are not yet 18 are looking forward to this opportunity. But what does this mean?

While the legal voting age in the United States is 18, voter registration and “pre-registration” rules and ages are different in every state.

In the District of Columbia, you can “pre-register” at 16. You can vote in a “primary” election if you are at least 17 and will be at least 18 years old by November 3, 2020 ( in the next general election).

In Maryland, you can register if you are at least 16, but you cannot vote unless you will be at least 18 years old by November 3 of this year.

In Virginia, if you are 17 and will be at least 18 by November 3, you can register in advance and vote in any primary or special election leading up to that general election.

It is important to know that, just because you have registered to vote does not mean that you are able to vote. The purpose of pre-registration is to ensure that voters are automatically eligible to vote starting on their 18th birthday.

What else can you do?

The first thing you have to do is learn. A lot! Read a broad range of news sources, watch the candidates debate, talk and listen to adults whose opinions you trust, (including your teachers) think deeply about what you see and hear and ask questions. Remember, political opinions are just that - opinions. People can disagree and learn from those disagreements.

Once you have determined which issues you consider to be most important, and which political candidates you consider best able to address those issues, you can try to make a difference in numerous ways.

For example:

1. Volunteer: There are many volunteer opportunities, even for young people (with the permission of a parent or guardian). For example:

In Maryland and Washington, D.C., 16 year olds can start working at the polls, where they can learn a lot about the election process and may even earn some money. (In Virginia, you have to be 18 to be an election worker.) At polling places, you can check voter registration lists, give out ballots and help the polling centers running smoothly.

If you want to participate, just make sure to check the state election rules. For example:

  • In Maryland, where election workers are called “Election Judges,” 16-year-olds can serve - and even get paid - as long as they are registered to vote and have parental permission. (For more information, check your county government website.)

  • In Washington D.C, 16-year-old residents have to complete at least four hours of training and take an oath.

2. Participate in Marches and other Peaceful Demonstrations. Many Holton students have already participated in Women’s Marches and other demonstrations to show government representatives what’s important to their voters and the American public at large.

3. Observe and Participate in local meetings: You can go in-person to a town hall or city council meeting. Sometimes representatives in Congress have town hall meetings too. (You can learn about these by checking their websites.)

You can even speak up at those meetings if there is something your local representatives need to know about or do. Even if you are not familiar with the topics of discussion, you can still learn a lot about how governments operate and about what is important to your government representatives and to your fellow citizens.

4. Express your opinion: Do not be afraid to send emails or write letters to your representatives, letting them know what they can/should do, or addressing past actions they have taken, good or bad. Remember, they represent you. Their contact information is freely available, at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

There are many other ways for students to learn more about and get involved in political activities at local, state and national levels.

Most of all, it is important for us to remember that politics are really about our everyday lives: our environment, our education, our economy, our safety, our relationships with other countries. Even though politicians sometimes make even urgent matters seem dull, it is up to us to stay focused on problems in the world that need to be solved and to choose representatives who can get the job done.

Virginia Voting:

https://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/how-to-register/

DC Voting:

https://www.dcboe.org/FAQS/Voter-Registration

Maryland Voting:

https://elections.maryland.gov/voter_registration/index.html?eligibility