The pause that I wrote about in another guest column for the Herald-News in April certainly has been longer than projected, coming up on seven months and holding. It feels more like the stop button for us teens. We have missed out on proms, traditional graduations, Friday night football games and beloved homecoming traditions. We have been remote learning or hybrid (a combination of remote and in-person). Our eyes are strained from staring at a screen for six hours a day. For seniors, the ACT has been canceled three consecutive times, and we still can’t visit colleges during this crucial time of applying.
I think I speak for the majority when I say I wish I could hit the rewind button. The perfect pause in March, when we could reflect and be grateful for time standing still, now is robbing us of our high school experiences that we may never get back. However, there is one thing that even COVID-19 can’t take away from us: our power to use our voices and vote.
Exercising our civic duty to vote is crucial in maintaining our nation’s democracy and the government’s practice of fair representation. By voting, you are voicing what you believe in, desire or need. When you don’t vote, you are silencing your opinions and essentially acting as if you don’t care if anything changes. Voting is about taking responsibility and creating a better future for your country. So, please, get out, vote and let your voice be heard.
More than 15 million Americans have turned 18 since the last presidential election, but these new adults vote at a much lower rate than the rest of the population. If 18- and 19-year-olds voted at the same rate as other Americans, there would be 1.5 million additional voters in the upcoming presidential election. The biggest question for the 2020 election is the effect young people will have. The system only works if we participate in it.
With this being said, young people have the power to decide the 2020 election. According to a generational study, 59% of eligible voters are a part of Generation X (1965-1976), Millennials (1977-1995) and Generation Z (1996-2012). Young people constitute the largest and most diverse group of voters in the country.
If you haven’t yet registered to vote, don’t worry. As long as you are a U.S. citizen, 18 years of age, a resident of the precinct 30 days prior and provide two forms of identification, you can register up until Sunday online by visiting thewillcountyclerk.com.
The Will County Clerk’s Office also is accepting applications for mail-in ballots until Oct. 29, which was extended from Oct. 6. However, you should apply sooner rather than later. As one of the student ambassadors to the Will County Clerk’s Office, I can confidently say many people are choosing mail-in voting this election. I personally input hundreds of mail-in registrations over the summer. Mail-in voting has become one of the most controversial issues of the 2020 election because so many people are using it as an opportunity to vote without fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
If you miss both deadlines, you still can register in person on Election Day. The state of Illinois offers same-day registration at your home precinct polling location. You can find your local facility by simply visiting thewillcountyclerk.com and using the “Find My Polling Place” lookup.
If you already are registered and want to beat the crowds on Election Day, you can vote early until Nov. 2 by heading to the Will County Clerk’s Office at 302 N. Chicago St. in Joliet.
It has never been easier to get out – or stay in – and vote this election. We, teens, hold the power to create a better country for ourselves, our children and future generations to come. No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, your voice will make a difference.
COVID-19 may have robbed us of some of our most memorable high school experiences, but it can’t steal our freedom to vote under our 26th Amendment rights. So, to all of my peers: Let’s hit that play button and vote this election. I urge you to make your voice heard loud and clear because our pursuit of happiness depends on it.
• Gianna Totani is a senior at Joliet Catholic Academy.