4 Ways To Participate in the 2020 Election If You’re Not Old Enough To Vote
Voting may be the most direct way for people to impact the upcoming election, but that doesn’t mean people under 18 are powerless. They can wield an important tool that doesn’t discriminate by age: influence.
Political campaigning has always been about influencing voters, whether it’s through paid advertisements, phone banking, or yard signs. As digital natives, young people may be the most natural and savvy influencers yet.
Here are some of the ways that people not yet old enough to vote can influence the 2020 election.
Phone calling and letter writing
Cold calls are a key part of any campaign strategy, and if you’re old enough to read a script and dial a phone, you’re old enough to place them. In Washington D.C., Courtney Ruark-Thompson calls voters in Florida and Minnesota every Tuesday with help from her two children: her 5-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old son. His only complaint about voter outreach is the speed of the autodialler, which runs through voters’ phone numbers until finding one that will connect: “The hardest thing is waiting to get the new call to come up.”
Abigail S., a New Yorker in her young teens, is doing her calls parent-free. While she waits for the autodialer, she makes friendship bracelets or solves her Rubik’s Cube. It’s not always smooth sailing — she’s candid about how often strangers hang up on her, and recalls “a time when I called someone from Florida, and they ended up yelling false information through the phone.” But to Abigail, knowing that she’s making a difference is more than worth it. “I love mentioning that I am not old enough to vote,” she says. “So many people have said to me, ‘You’re going to go far.’ It’s really inspiring to hear those words from complete strangers.”
And for those of us who have “phone-phobia,” letting writing is a great alternative. Ten-year-old Zosia has been joining her parents in writing get out the vote postcards, though, her mother reports, Zosia has said “she would rather be out protesting.”
Art and merchandise
In Brooklyn, Henry Schrank, age 9, and his friend are making t-shirts with the word ‘VOTE.’ The two boys sell the shirts through Henry’s mother’s Instagram, and to date, they’ve sold over 50 shirts and raised more than $1,000. Schrank advises fellow young artists that they can do the same. “It feels good to know that you’re making a difference. It’s worth trying.”
In Dallas, 14-year-old Quincy Cobb is making her own shirts sporting the message: “Too young to vote, old enough to care.” Says Cobb on her website: “Caring about who leads our country impacts future generations. And by future generations, I mean, mine.”
This wouldn’t be a story about Gen Z if we didn’t talk about TikTok. While the video sharing app is best known for dance memes like the WAP challenge (look it up, but maybe not on your work computer), it has also become an unfiltered way for teens to communicate about politics. This often takes the form of juxtaposing viral sound clips with political text, as exemplified by many of Michael Schiumo’s videos or the Feminist Sisters’ energetic dance videos. Come for the Nicki Minaj choreography, stay for the radical feminism.
A few weeks ago, creator Colton Hess launched Tok the Vote, a coalition for Tik Tok users of all ages to encourage voter turnout amongst their followers. If you have a TikTok account, you can be a political influencer. The New York Times quotes 17-year-old political content creator Izzy as saying, “I feel like I am making an impact on the election even though I can’t vote.”
Voter registration and poll work
Those in Gen Z who are too young to vote themselves are focused on sending the older members of their cohort out to the polls. A group of high schoolers recently formed Beyond the Ballot, which aims to get new and soon-to-be voters the information they need to make informed decisions. One of their researchers, 16-year-old Aanika Veedon, is focused on getting her peers to pre-register through another student-led organization called V.O.T.E (Voters of Tomorrow Engaged).
“I wish I had known that I could have started engaging directly in politics sooner,” says Veedon. “I always thought that it was something reserved for older people. But we really aren’t too young to be making a difference in politics. In times as historic and unjust as the ones we are in, the voice of youth is as important as ever.”
In Connecticut, Bo Yun Brainerd, 17, helps with her town’s registrar of voters and works the polls as a clerk, greeter, and info gatherer. (Many states accept poll workers as young as 16.) “I have a voice and the more I believe in my purpose and the things I say, the more others will too,” says Brainerd. “It’s okay to be the only girl in the room, the only minority, or even the only teenager. It takes seeing past those small differences and focusing on the commonalities.”
Veedon, Brainerd, and their peers can’t vote this year—but that’s not going to stop them from having their say.