Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 28, 2023

Is democracy alive and well? Vote around and find out

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | September 14, 2023


National Voter Registration Day is coming up on Tuesday, Sept. 19. The rhetoric surrounding voter registration often focuses on the importance of making your voice heard. Yet for many, politics has come to mean something different.

Being politically active doesn’t seem as meaningful as it used to. For those of us who were excited to finally turn 18 and bubble in a ballot, voting may now feel more symbolic of our civic power than actually capable of enacting change. If you feel disillusioned with the political sphere, we’re in the same boat.

While voter disillusionment is not a new issue, it’s an increasingly pressing one. Young voters are more cynical about politics than they were just a couple of years ago. Many are also frustrated by the limited candidate choices. For example, Gen-Z activists have expressed dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden, desiring more progressive politicians who better represent their views. 

It is also difficult to feel that politicians are making decisions in our best interest when most of them are from different generations and don’t treat issues like climate change and student loan debt with the same urgency.

This concern is exacerbated when it feels like there’s no space for young voices in our political structures. The median age of the Senate and House is 65.3 and 57.9 years old, respectively. Despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of Americans want maximum age limits for elected officials, representatives in Congress are free to serve for as long as they can get the votes. Many continue to serve into their 70s and 80s, including Mitch McConnell who has held his seat since 1985, and Nancy Pelosi, who was first elected to her seat in 1987. 

There has always been a high rate of incumbent reelection. In 2020, 93% of incumbents won their reelection bids. This represents a clear barrier to newcomers seeking to infuse fresh blood and new policies into the political discourse. 

Due to structural hurdles in the political system, the most qualified candidates do not necessarily rise to the top. Financial constraints significantly limit who will be elected to office. Running a campaign is egregiously expensive, with the 2022 election cycle seeing record campaign spending of $2.7 billion. The cost of a campaign can be prohibitive to those who lack independent financial wealth, connections or funding from large organizations

Even when a bid for office is successful, there is no telling whether there will be follow-through on campaign promises. Biden committed to finding a solution to the student debt crisis more than two years ago, but his go-it-alone executive order was struck down by a 6–3 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court case Biden v. Nebraska. Voting for a candidate with admirable goals is great, but what can we do when our elected officials do not fulfill their promises? It can feel as if we are left to wait for the next election when we will send the next optimistic candidate into a losing battle.

We can’t promise that voting is going to fix everything, or even anything, but we have to try. 

Engaging in political discourse — whether online, through social media or through conversations with peers — continues to be crucial. Your political participation should start with voting (if you’re eligible), but it doesn’t have to end there. Consider volunteering for local political campaigns, where your impact can be felt more immediately. Local politics, which operate on a smaller scale with more direct solutions, often have a more visible and timely impact on one’s community. 

Finally, you can take a look around you and consider what policies will impact your life and career beyond these few short years at Hopkins. Politics may be disappointing, but it is clear that doing nothing means changing nothing. If young Americans hope to see better representation in politics, then we must step up and give our visions for reform a fighting chance.

National Voter Registration Day is not just a symbolic reminder of our civic duties. The challenge to this new generation of voters to push for a brighter future is very much alive and breathing. It is time for us to take charge of what lies ahead and stoke the flames of participatory democracy with our votes.

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