This year’s midterm elections are gearing up to be one of the most followed election cycles in modern history. The age of Donald Trump has inspired the most diverse set of candidates to run in the history of United States elections; over a fourth of them are women, over a fifth are people of color, and 26 openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The rise in political participation is not only found in the candidates that run, it's been most recently exhibited in who’s voting. In states like Texas, Florida and Georgia, early voting numbers are breaking midterm cycle records. Across the US, over 24 million citizens have exercised their civic duty thus far. This surge in voting is due, in large part, to the prevalence of young and first-time voters casting ballots this election cycle. 

While it may be the case that our generation is just getting the chance to vote, the political activism of young people is not a new phenomenon. Almost any social issue the United States’ political landscape has faced in the past ten years has been influenced and catalyzed by young people. From the Standing Rock protests encouraging environmental justice for Native populations to March For Our Lives—the response to the Parkland shootings—youth populations have inserted themselves into a space traditionally dominated by older, whiter, male gatekeepers. While millennials and generation Z-ers have been more politically active than we get credit for, that rarely has translated in casting a ballot. For whatever reason, voters age 18-24 consistently have the lowest voting turnout regardless of the type of election. Our low turnout has even been the butt of political jokes in the 2018 election cycle. However, polling data from this election cycle suggests that we are showing up more than ever before. Even here at Duke, college-aged voters are breaking records. My question, then, is why? What is so special about this midterm election cycle that has higher numbers of young people going out to cast their  ballot? 

To find out, I polled a small sample of college students at universities around the country to gauge the political behavior of my peers this election cycle. Of those students, 53.2 percent would be voting for the first time in the 2018 midterms—50.9 percent were not eligible to vote in the in the 2016 presidential election. The reasoning behind casting a ballot this cycle varied wildly. One person interned for a Democratic candidate running to flip a historically red district. Another person believes that the powers of the executive branch are too unchecked to remain silent. Another wants to “assist the greatest president in American history, Donald John Trump.” The most popular reason my peers are casting ballots this election cycle, however, is simply because they feel like it is their civic duty. 

I recognize that not everyone can or feels comfortable voting. In this country, voting tends to be more of a privilege than a right. I can only hope that one day this country sticks to the rallying cry, “one person, one vote.” When it comes down to it, voting is all about expressing your voice in our complicated, divided political system.  There are people who argue that voting in a failing two-party system that routinely ignores the cries of minority populations is a lost cause. To those political pessimists, I understand your criticism. I am by no means suggesting that, just because youth voters show up for the 2018 midterms, we will see our political preferences translated into meaningful public policy. We may have to wait decades for comprehensive gun control or health care reform or the legalization of marijuana. We may have to go through dozens more election cycles before we see more comprehensive border patrol or significantly lower taxes or a Space Force. But, I am inclined to believe that voting is the only way we let those who can make change know that change needs to be made. 

So, today, whatever it is that motivates you to get up in the morning, whatever gets you through lecture after lecture, midterm after midterm here at Duke—let that be the reason you cast a ballot today. Whether you care about the future of the environment or how artificial intelligence changes the structure of a business, get out and vote. Do not let the surge of early voting numbers trick you into thinking your one vote doesn't matter. In many of the country’s hottest races, that one vote could be the difference between your candidate swearing in to office or bowing out of the race. Don’t let the uninformed, uninterested stereotype of young people stop you from making your voice heard. If you do anything this fine election day, vote.

Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.