12/01/2010 10:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

All or Nothing: Youth Turnout Year-Round or Maybe Not at All

Interested in Millennial voters this election? Google "Millennials," and you're going to see some basic facts: turnout this year was not up. Actually, it was average for a midterm election. Other facts? Young people comprise the one age group to resist the swing to the conservative side. Sixty percent of them voted for Democrats.

Why didn't the young Obama-voter boom of 2008 continue in 2010? Many in the media argue that Millennials didn't turnout in the numbers we'd like because the Democratic Party failed to engage youth leading up to the election. Youth mobilization organizations highlight the failure of politicians to substantially engage young people over the last two years. They are most likely onto something. But if we continue to worry about engaging youth only around election time, we won't solve the problem.

The long-term health of our democracy depends on youth engagement, but that requires Millennials' substantive engagement in our governance, not just our elections. It requires the engagement of youth in the policy process, campaigning around implementing their vision, reflective of their values and their priorities. It requires Millennials' ideas year-round, not just their sweat on the campaign trail or their ballot on Election Day.

This type of engagement isn't a pipe dream -- it's happening right now. Through the Roosevelt Campus Network's Think 2040 project, Millennials across the country have come together to design the future that they want to inherit -- their Blueprint for Millennial America. It outlines their values, their vision for the future, and their plan to achieve it. They've come up with outstanding ideas for change -- like getting health care to rural communities through unused TV bandwidth. Innovative, progressive ideas like these will help remake our country -- and our entrepreneurial and dedicated peers are poised to provide the necessary leadership to tackle the 21st century challenges we face.

Think 2040 asks "What's your vision for America in 2040?" The goal: To design the future we want to live in. The result: A clear, comprehensive youth platform that recognizes the importance of addressing the challenges facing American education, our environment, the health care system, the American economy, and our federal budget--a holistic vision for the future that we want to inherit.

Nationwide, young people are already turning this vision into reality. One campaign, "Sexy Cities," focuses on highlighting the positive ecological and economic impacts on communities that result from public transit projects. Once completed, this research will guide transportation policy formulation not only from where it began in California's East Bay, but across the country.

These student initiatives reflect the core values of the Millennial Generation. For example, our Community Finance initiative, embodying the deep value we place on community investment, will help steer financial resources of citizens towards investing in their local community infrastructure.

If we want young people to turn out to vote in 2012, our leaders must recognize the importance of substantive engagement -- respecting and promoting the energy and ideas that young Americans bring to the policymaking process.

Contributors: Tarsi Dunlop, Manpriya Samra, Zachary Kolodin