Southern Utah University Leavitt Center member Aidan Gates hosted a presentation and panel discussion on Wednesday, Nov. 15, titled “Making Your Voice Heard: A Guide to Voter Turnout and Issues.” The three panelists there to discuss the topic were Carson Brown, SUU’s current student body president; Cynthia Hawk, manager of SUU’s Q Center; and Tydon Bullar, one of the Leavitt Center’s Debates and Voter Engagement Committee chairs.
Before the panel discussion, Gates first presented some facts and statistics about voter turnout in the U.S. In the 2020 national election, three-fourths of those who could register to vote did so, and only 66% actually voted. The 18-24 age range generally has the very lowest voter turnout, and the 55-64 age range has the highest. Nontraditional voting, which includes early voting or voting by mail-in ballots, rose to 69% of ballots cast in the 2020 election, over twice the percentage in any previous elections; in 1996, nontraditional voting accounted for only 10% of ballots cast.
Gates then posed a series of questions to the panelists, asking them about their stances and ideas regarding various aspects of elections. In answer to what they thought is the most pressing issue for the next election, Brown said he believes that it will be foreign affairs, since issues in Israel and China’s threats on Taiwan will continue to be increasing problems and the U.S. will likely be called on to play a major role. Bullar agreed with this, saying he believes that the federal government needs to focus on representing us internationally while leaving domestic issues for the states to work out individually.
In answer to whether the panelists thought that their needs were being fully represented in politics, Bullar stated that insufficient representation is largely a symptom of low voter turnout; “People don’t go and vote, and yet they still want politics to go their way,” he said. “This makes pretty much every community become underrepresented.”
“We get so energized for federal elections,” said Hawk, “but local elections and small municipalities affect us so much.” The city council is extremely powerful in Cedar City, Brown explained, and so we need to be paying more attention to local issues and making our voices heard.
One issue that was brought up repeatedly was the lack of younger voices in American politics. “We need people in politics with similar experiences and viewpoints to ourselves,” said Brown, “and we’re just not seeing this with Gen Z.”
The panelists discussed a few potential ways to improve this issue. “We just can’t have career politicians,” said Hawk. “We need more grassroots movements that bring legitimate stakeholder power into policymaking.”
Bullar felt that “young people would be more comfortable going to political meetings if there were more young people at these meetings.” People are naturally drawn to putting themselves in situations where there are already others there who look, act and think like them, he said.
Bullar felt that, although there has been talk about putting maximum age limits on how old someone can be to run for offices, this puts up walls when the goal is really to tear down barriers. The focus, then, should be not on excluding older people but instead on encouraging younger people to join in. “If a 90-year-old is able to run for office, so should a 25-year-old,” he said.
This issue of low voter turnout among college-aged Americans was one of Gates’ motivations for hosting this panel discussion. “A majority of university students are in that 18 to 24 age group, which had the lowest voting turnout of any age group that the Census Bureau looked at. So, we’re in this group, and this group is underperforming,” said Gates. “I feel that, for all citizens, there’s an ethical responsibility to be informed and to get out there and vote. Because if you don’t, you’re taking power away from yourself, and there’s just no sound reason to do that.”
There may be more opportunities for attending these kinds of events at the Leavitt Center in the future. “I’ve heard that, in the past, we used to do panel discussions quite frequently, and then they just kind of fell out of fashion,” said Gates. “I feel like going forward, it would be interesting to make it more of a recurring thing again.”
Election day will be on Nov. 21, and the Leavitt Center offers assistance to anyone wanting to register to vote.
One of the Leavitt Center’s upcoming events will be the “Day on the Hill,” where attendees will get to visit the Utah State Capitol. They also host the Pizza and Politics events every Wednesday at noon, where two presenters will discuss and inform the audience on an issue pertinent to American culture and politics, asking the audience to join in and provide their opinions and commentary.
Further information on the Leavitt Center and its events and internships can be found at their website.
Author: Emily Walters
Photographer: Emily Walters
Editor: Chevy Blackburn