In our country, turning 18 is important for many reasons, but in my opinion, the most significant is that it activates the right to vote. That’s even more exciting when it happens in an election year. As a seasoned voter and an educator, I have tried to instill in this year’s newly minted voters the critical concept that their votes do, indeed, matter.

Phil Potenziano is the Superintendent of Brunswick School Department. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilPotenziano & Instagram Brunswickmesup.

During the 2016 election, only 58% of all voting-eligible Americans voted. A recent article in The Bulwark boils it down: “Of the people who were eligible to vote in the last presidential election … Hillary Clinton got 29% of their votes; 28% went to Donald Trump. The biggest winner? The 39% of eligible voters who voted for nobody. They didn’t cast a vote for president at all.”

I find that disheartening, but I’m hopeful about this year’s new voters. A recent article on NPR says that they could “wield significant political power” this year, comprising a full 37% of eligible voters. In addition, Stephanie Young, a spokesperson for When We All Vote, (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, launched in 2018, committed to increasing participation in every election), says “Because of COVID-19 … because of the civil unrest that we’re seeing, this is creating a little bit of a perfect storm to harness a new generation of Americans who are going to be interested in what’s happening in their communities.”

I think she’s right. Young adults are more engaged than ever. Racial injustice, diversity, equity and inclusion, climate change – even the economy, GNP and interest rates! They are interested. They are learning. They care. I’m proud when I watch them talk through their ideas, get stirred up about issues and take action. It is an exuberance singular to young people – the uncynical heart of the young – and I find it inspiring.

All manner of studies try to pinpoint why people don’t vote. Some don’t feel informed enough to vote and others don’t trust the system. Some people don’t think their vote matters, or question whether elected officials actually make decisions that impact their lives.

We may have forgotten civics 101, but the American Bar Association reminds us that “Our elected officials and their appointees decide who pays how much in taxes, what our taxes pay for, what kind of education our children get, what counts as a crime, what agricultural products are subsidized, what the minimum wage shall be, who is eligible for Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC benefits, who is admitted into the country, where hospitals, factories and wind farms are located, and where toxic waste is dumped …” And the list goes on and on.

As seasoned voters, it is incumbent upon us to encourage these new voters to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities. And one of the best things we can do is lead by example.

Editor’s note: The Forecaster welcomes Phil Potenziano, superintendent of the Brunswick School Department, to the Opinion section. Superintendent’s Notebook will be published the first week of every month; follow Potenziano on Twitter @PhilPotenziano & Instagram Brunswickmesup.

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