Making It Better

Jack Clay, Staff Writer

It would be best to disclose my bias right away. I was a Fellow and avid volunteer for Sen. Joyce Elliott’s campaign for Congress in the fall of 2020. I was not old enough to vote in the 2020 elections, so I made phone calls, volunteered at rallies and spent a lot of time with Sen. Elliott, or “The Senator,” as we called her, talking about the political climate of Arkansas. 

We discussed many things, but one of the key ideas that has stayed in my mind ever since the campaign was when she told me her views about students in politics, specifically voting. “Sometimes, it doesn’t get better until people see that it can be better,” she said, though I can’t remember if those were the exact words. I had just made 2000 postcards that encouraged voters to register for and participate in the election, and my brain was tired. But through the grogginess, I could somewhat hear her continue.

“A lot of people I have known, from students to community members, get that feeling that their voices don’t matter because they don’t see anyone else showing them that they matter. That’s always something we can do with this campaign, is show others that their voices matter,” is what she said in essence. And when Nov. 3 came, I was somewhat disheartened. Not because Sen. Elliott lost; democracy ran its course and she conceded with grace after the votes were counted. I was disheartened by the turnout. Only 55% of registered voters participated in the election. Arkansas had the second-lowest voter turnout rate in the nation, beating out Oklahoma by only a fraction of a percent. This is what hurt me the most.

A democracy only works when its people vote. A democracy can only be representative of the people who vote. This is especially true for young people, who historically do not vote as often as other age demographics. A study by the Pew Research Center showed that the 18-29 age range accounts for only 17% of registered voters. If it was ever a mystery why young people are forced to sign up for the draft, or why the government is accelerating, not halting, the threat of climate change or why our schools often lack the resources they need, it is because the very people who have an interest in the prevention of those things, young people, do not vote. 

A reason I often hear is that with the shape of our democracy, our votes really don’t matter. With the electoral college and winner-take-all systems, that may be true on some level. But the federal government is not the only thing we vote for. Our state and local governments will have a much greater impact on our lives, and that is where every last vote counts. In Bauxite, the 2020 City Council election was decided by only one vote. If just one more Bryant student had voted in that election, the outcome would be completely different. This is not to say anything for or against either candidate, it is just to show the power of voting, a power that each adult student has.

It will be a couple of years before young people in Arkansas have the chance to vote in another larger-scale election, but that should not stop us from being invested in the well-being of our democracy. Young people have the chance to become a powerful voting block that is able to sway elections and pursue the policies we need. It is only a matter of voting and showing people that things can be better. Then, if The Senator’s words hold true, they will be.