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November 9, 2012 at 1:32 PM

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Young voters are not apathetic

Editor's note: Sandi Halimuddin, a University of Washington student interning with The Seattle Times opinion section, is contributing to our Ed Cetera blog.

On Tuesday, I voted for the first time. Being a part of the collective national experience was thrilling; the biting political debates, the interactive social media campaigns, the “I voted” stickers and most of all, the ability to take part in shaping my country’s future. As a young person, I regard voting as a privilege and a coming of age rite of participation in the world’s finest democracy.

However, the dominant discourse around young voter participation is presumptuous and pessimistic. Young voters are portrayed as disconnected, uninformed and apathetic. As a young voter, I resent that this stereotype has been reinforced and imposed on an influential and dynamic voting bloc.

In this past election, voter turnout for Americans ages 18 through 29 was 22 to 23 million, a solid 49 percent of this voter group, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). This falls in line with strong 50 percent turnout of young voters in the past three presidential elections. It's a significant shift from the past, with 37 percent turnout in 1996 and 41 percent in 2000.

High voter turnout amongst young people is a reflection of engagement, according to Alex Miller, program director of The Washington Bus, a nonprofit organization aimed on encouraging civic engagement among Washington state youth.

During the 2012 election, The Washington Bus saw unprecedented amount of enthusiasm and volunteers which challenges the traditional discourse of youth apathy. Miller rejects the idea of an age-based “enthusiasm gap” in political participation and said, “Regardless of age, young voters are voters.”

Young people vote because of the same reasons as everyone else — because we care about our government, our country and our future. And our vote matters, with voters ages 18 through 29 representing 19 percent of voters in the recent election, according to early exit poll statistics presented by CIRCLE.

The stereotype of young-voter apathy is not only dated, but also counterproductive to engagement efforts. Imposing inauthentic representations of young people in politics perpetuates a discouraging characterization that hinders our encouragement and empowerment.

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