We've all had a certain date in early November marked on our calendars for months now. What happens November 6 is huge, though for many what will transpire in the following days, weeks and months will matter even more. Because it happens like clockwork. Every four years, right around the time of the summer Olympics, politicians suddenly remember the importance of the youth vote, just as Americans remember that trampoline is an Olympic sport. During the off years, any conversation about Millennials usually involves tired stereotypes and misplaced accusations of "apathy," but in the months leading up to an election, it's all about Twitter town halls and campaign stops on college campuses.
And why wouldn't they court the youth vote? There are 17 million more young people eligible to vote since the 2008 election. Right now, 22 percent of all eligible voters are 18- to 29-year-olds.
That's a lot of votes at stake.
Of course, young people have never -- and will never -- forget the importance of voting. How could they? Young people are so directly affected by the policies these candidates will later enact. They are the ones with the highest levels of unemployment and the lowest level of health insurance coverage. They are the ones facing rising tuition costs and graduating with an average of $20,000 in student loan debt. And they are the ones with the most to lose in the battles over our bodies and our sex lives.
Students across the country found out firsthand just how engaged young people are in this election when they turned out to register voters for National Voter Registration Day. Choice USA's chapters on 10 campuses registered more than 1,700 people in a single day. Nationwide, more than 277,000 people registered as part of the youth-led National Voter Registration Day. Those numbers don't suggest an apathetic demographic.
These soon-to-be voters weren't just showing up for the love of paperwork, they were engaged because they care about the candidates and the issues, and how they would affect their lives.
"I was amazed at how many people came up to our table and already had such strong ideas about why they were voting," said Thalia Duarte, student leader from University of Texas at El Paso, "for many it will be their first time voting and they were really excited to get one step closer to the polls."
The issues that move Millennials to vote are the same as any other group -- jobs, health care and education. Once they arrive to vote, many will also see reproductive justice issues on the ballot. Four states have ballot measures that would decide whether same-sex couples can marry and enjoy the same legal rights as straight couples. Montana ballots will include a measure that would force pregnant teenagers to seek their parent's permission to obtain an abortion. A proposed amendment in Florida would allow politicians to meddle in a woman's healthcare, in an attempt to restrict her insurance coverage and ultimately influence her decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy.
These issues will require young people to vote their values, yet whether it's unemployment, same-sex marriage, or contraception access, young people are rarely involved in tackling these issues. A new study from Georgetown University shows that young people are more likely than any another age group to feel that they don't have a voice in their government.
"It's easy to feel discouraged when politicians pander for our votes but don't make our issues a priority," says JT Hammons, student leader at the University of Kansas. "Now we make up such a large voting bloc that we can use our civic duty to remind leaders that we are watching."
How many young people turn out to vote may help decide who resides in the White House for the next four years, but this election will reveal a lot more than that. This election gives us a window into the future, because by 2020, there will be 90 million Millennials of voting age, making up 40 percent of the electorate. This generation is the future of America -- well-educated, tolerant, progressive and more racially and ethnically diverse than any generation that has come before it.
This election is important and there's a lot at stake. But what will happen after the votes are tallied? We have a choice. We can repeat history and see this generation as a list of names to solicit for donations and pad listervs or we can choose to seize this new base of people of invest in -- and engage with -- in building a proactive movement and progressive legislative agenda.
In these last days before the election, campaigns will surely continue to court Millennial votes -- all 46 million of them. The true test is whether they will make good on those promises come November 7th.
Follow Kierra Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChoiceUSA