Guest Opinions

Millennials must vote in all elections, not just every four years

We’ve had a lot of excitement about the presidential election already. Young voters are taking an opportunity to “Feel the Bern” or “Make America Great Again.”

It was this same excitement that brought swarms of young voters to the 2008 and 2012 elections — roughly 60 percent of millennial voters participated. But immediately after the new president was elected, voter numbers dropped off dramatically for local elections, dipping down to just a third of the presidential election numbers.

My generation is defining ourselves in many ways. We’ve been labeled “the most educated generation in history,” because information is available with the click of a button. We’re invested in social causes. We’re mobile. We have tools, like social media, to constantly give and receive feedback. We also don’t invest energy in things that don’t concern us.

But local politics should concern us.

If you think for a moment about the essentials local government provide, it’s astounding that we aren’t lining up at voting booths to fill a ballot with our opinions. Schools, libraries, parks, transportation, police, fire, public health, water, waste, taxes, cost of living — it’s all local.

And, if any of those services aren’t adequate, we have to supplement them from our own pockets.

We have more daily contact with our state and local governments than we ever could with the federal side. Yet a mass number of millennial voters who participated in national elections don’t even know when voting days are in their own hometowns.

Many of my peers are 20-somethings and Treasure Valley transplants who are unmarried, have no children, rent homes and work in entry- to mid-level jobs.

All of these qualifiers become obstacles to voting — as though they make our voices irrelevant to the issues. With no children, for example, why should we have a say in education funding or appointment of school board members?

Why? Because if you pay taxes in Idaho, whether you have children or not, more than half of your contributions go toward education. That certainly earns us the right to vote.

Others cite confusing local government bureaucracy or lack of information as their primary obstacles to voting. Thankfully, we have ample opportunity to connect with our local officials and programs focused on civil discourse to clear things up.

Legislators’ phone numbers, email addresses and Twitter handles are publicly available — and legislators respond. Boise City Council members are often seen meeting constituents in local coffee shops. Plus, civic organizations such as City Club, the Andrus Center and Boise Young Professionals (BYP) host multiple opportunities to demystify local politics and mingle with area politicians.

Fellow millennials — we are a powerful group with the ability to help our communities. The issues that matter most to us happen on a local level, and it is up to us to pave the way for success.

By educating ourselves, asking questions and engaging in discussions, we can become informed voters who elect quality leaders in every election, not just every four years.

Sophie Sestero is a millennial, a senior account executive at Fahlgren Mortine, a community member of the Statesman Editorial Board and chair elect of Boise Young Professionals.