On Oct. 22, the Wilkes University College Democrats hosted a young voters panel. The focus of the panel was to focus on the importance of young voters on the United States’ democracy. The panel was moderated by Gregory Chang, Chairperson of the College Democrats.
The panel consisted of four panelists: political science professor Benjamin Toll, Wilkes-Barre City Council candidate Mark Shaffer, Wilkes-Barre City Council Member Beth Gilbert and the president of the Luzerne County Young Democrats, Jenis Walsh.
The panelists opened the discussion about what got them into politics. Toll’s interest in political science began when he realized just how divisive politics could be.
Beth Gilbert explained that she first got into politics when she applied for Wilkes-Barre junior city council in high school, before eventually pursuing a career in the field.
“I majored in political science at Wilkes and the seat for city council became open when I was a senior. I talked with my parents and to Dr. Baldino and none of them discouraged me,” Gilbert continued, “I wanted to encourage students to stay in the area after graduation to help fix up the area to keep other students in the area after graduating.”
The next topic focused on was what was the hardest demographic for Gilbert and other panelists who had experienced running in campaigns. Gilbert expressed that the biggest demographic that created a problem when running were older men. She stated that they were unreceptive to her and had to prove herself to them before they were willing to consider her as a potential candidate. Gilbert is currently the only female member of the City Council.
The panelists then discussed that their day to day conversations often build toward or become focused around politics. Chang asked how the panelist avoid always talking about politics.
“I fully lean into it,” said Shaffer. “I study political science so I see everything through a political lens. There is nothing really going on in society that you can say is purely
non-political. If you are not political that is a political statement of your privilege and how you do not need to be political because things are fine for you. So I think it is always important to bring it up.”
Gilbert and Walsh agreed with Shaffer that it is important to lean into talking about politics. Toll expressed that he is comfortable talking about politics with those he has a decent relationship with or with his students.
The conversation then shifted to the importance of encouraging young people to vote.
“The statistics are pretty clear, politicians do not care about young people because young people do not vote. The stats are overwhelmingly clear that young voters care about completely different issues than older voters, and until they use their voices, politicians are not going to care about those issues,” said Toll.
Walsh built off of Toll’s statements, “That is probably the main reason we see every debate start with health care rather than student loans, environmental issues or gun reform. That is almost never spoken about because the voters are not willing to show up as much as the baby boomers.”
Gilbert talked about how some candidates are beginning to talk about some of the issues and expressed that she believes whoever wins the millennial and Gen Z vote will win the election. Starting next year, 40% of the electorate will be millennials or members of Gen Z. This number will outnumber the number of baby boomer voters.
The panel then discussed what would happen if young people began to vote more.
“I think that as time goes on and younger voters are more motivated we will see the buckling of the establishment for both political parties,” explained Gilbert. “Gen Z is very skeptical of political parties. I think you will see more people like AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). I think it will dramatically change the political landscape.”
Toll built off of Gilbert’s statements, “A thesis I make in a lot of my classes is that baby boomers have ruined America, we are coming to the point in which baby boomers are not the biggest voting bloc. The biggest potential voting bloc are millennials and 1980’s and younger folks. The question becomes does this generation use its voice.”
One of the closing topics for the panel was how the audience can get involved.
Shaffer said, “I am running for city council in your district, we are always looking for door knockers and canvassers. I would tell you if you are from New York or New Jersey registered on campus…your vote does not matter. If you are from Pennsylvania, your vote is extremely important. If you want your vote to matter register on campus on Nov. 6.”
New York and New Jersey are both considered blue-states, while Pennsylvania is typically a swing state. Votes in swing states, meaning states which frequently switch between Democratic and Republican, are typically considered more important in modern politics.
Shaffer and Walsh clarified that Luzerne County is the second most important county in the country due to its swing status.
After that discussion, the panel moved into a Q&A where the panel was asked why they favor lowering the voting age.
“I think the biggest argument in favor of it is that voting is a habit, people who vote turn out and vote and the cycle repeats. Creating that habit when someone is still at home in a high school environment creates a climate in which they are used to voting. The number one reason people say they do not vote is that they move too much and do not know how to register in a new location.”
The panelists reflected that the most important aspects to take away from the panel were for young voters to get involved and that students should register to vote on campus in Luzerne County and that the more people voting, the more likely the problems you care about will be talked about or addressed by candidates more often.
Chang discussed afterward why the College Democrats decided to host the panel the way that they did.
“We liked the idea of formatting a formal discussion because people usually get more engaged when it is more formal or light-hearted. We chose the topic of young voters because they tend to not turn out despite having more involvement overall in society,” explained Chang. “We hoped to reach out to students on campus because we have the largest chance of reaching out and getting more young voters to go out there and vote.”
The College Democrats generally host weekly Snacks ‘n’ Politics meeting in the Student Union Building Lounge on Tuesdays or Thursdays with a variety of different topics each week.
Those who aren’t registered to vote will not be able to vote in the upcoming general election. The last day to request an absentee valid is Tuesday, Oct. 29. The general election will be held on Nov. 5.
Election Day is November 4.
On this year’s ballot, the following will be voted on in the city of Wilkes-Barre.
– Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge
– Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution
– Multiple candidates facing retention or recall: Judith Oslon and Anne Lazarus (both of the Pennsylvania Superior Court), and Patricia McCullough and Kevin Brobson (both of Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court)