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It’s time for students to take action

Kyle Simpson

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably well aware that a presidential election is fast approaching. The 2016 presidential race has been one of the more entertaining ones, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders garnering a lot of attention with their unconventional campaigns. It’s very likely that anyone you ask on campus has an opinion, one way or the other, about this presidential sweepstakes that has dominated most Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds for the better part of six months.

Unfortunately, recent history suggests that students are treating the election as more of a reality show than the important civic duty that it is, and the inherent barriers to voting make it likely that most students here at the University won’t vote and make their voices heard. Youth voter participation was a dismal 19.9 percent in 2014, and although 45 percent of Americans age 18-29 voted in 2012, it’s likely that a small fraction of those voters participated in the primaries. In California, it’s more likely that a young person went to jail than voted in 2014.

For most states that aren’t swing states, like Alabama, the primary process is perhaps more important than the general election—and deadlines to register in time for primary elections are fast approaching (you have to be registered by February 15 if you want to vote in Alabama’s primary). If young people voted in the same proportions as other age groups, the electorate would look completely different, and we could have a profound effect on the results of elections.

Tuition prices are soaring, and our legislators are doing very little to solve the problem. There will be 4 justices on the U.S. Supreme Court that will be over the age of 80 in the next term, and that fact alone suggests that the next president could be one of the most consequential presidents for decades to come. It is perhaps more important than ever for young people to affect public policy in the United States, because we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of these elections the longest. Students have to take action, and to do that they need to be informed and aware of registration deadlines and requirements. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious the steps that have to be taken to vote.

Questions about students registering to vote at their college residences were raised last year by the Alabama Supreme Court—as I wrote about in October—but a recent email sent by the University confirms that the Alabama Secretary of State is honoring students’ constitutional right to vote where they attend university. However, many students may want to maintain their residency in their home states, so it is vital that they learn about primary registration deadlines, absentee ballot deadlines and other requirements. This information is incredibly important—and it’s only a short Google search away.

Students need to make sure they weigh their options, register in time, and exercise the right to vote that remains the key to our democracy. Take responsibility for yourself and urge your friends to do the same; voting is actually pretty easy. At the very least, consider your vote a license to complain about the results—something as American as voting itself.

Kyle Simpson is a junior majoring in biology. His column runs weekly.

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It’s time for students to take action