Time for students to educate themselves and vote!
By Hannah Byrd
In January of this year, I wandered into my first League of Women Voters meeting. I was pleased with what I found. Wacoans of different generations, political beliefs, and educational backgrounds gathered around a table to discuss how to improve voter participation and education in McLennan County. This is exactly what I had been searching for: an organization that unites citizens in the goal of protecting democracy. I became a student member of the League of Women Voters because I wanted to make positive political change that was non-partisan. In my few months of involvement with the League, I have learned important lessons.
First, more students should get involved with the League. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), only 50% of eligible young people (ages 18-29) voted in the 2016 presidential election. This number is discouraging, but there is hope. CIRCLE found that young people who are registered to vote, vote in high numbers. One of the League’s main goals is to register voters to increase voter participation. I volunteered at the League’s registration drive in January. We registered someone who was celebrating his 18th birthday that day. It is exciting to help my peers become active political participants. Young people’s perspectives matter, but only if we express them through our vote. The League knows how important young people are to protecting our democracy. A student membership costs only $5 annually.
Second, I have learned the importance of local elections. At the League’s Candidate Forum in February, I listened to candidates running for local political offices explain their platforms. The candidates who win these offices will make decisions that impact everyone in McLennan County on an individual level. County Commissioners maintain our roads, the District Attorney prosecutes criminal cases, and the County Judge oversees the budget for county government operations. These are just a few examples of local elected officials and their responsibilities. Despite these offices’ important functions, local elections tend to have low voter turnout. A small number of eligible voters shape local policy for everyone. When more people vote in these elections, McLennan County becomes a community that works for everyone.
More voters in McLennan County participated in the recent midterm elections than in the past. To continue these positive changes, the League needs volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. Students can impact the future of their communities and country by becoming a member of the League. We can all help by participating in every election, local, state, and national. Our democracy works best when it reflects the will of the people. This can only happen if we do our part to become educated voters and help our neighbors do the same.
Hannah Byrd is a senior at Baylor University where she studies International Studies and Arabic and Middle East Studies. In addition to her involvement with the League of Women Voters, Hannah serves as president of Pursue Mentoring Organization, a Baylor service organization that seeks to empower at-risk middle school girls in Waco ISD. She likes watching matinees at the Hippodrome, spends too much time at Moody Library, and enjoys hiking in Cameron Park on sunny days.
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