Concerned with an alarming decrease in local and national voter turnout — especially among young adults and minority groups — more than 70 community members gathered on a drizzling Saturday morning to bring awareness to the problem and discuss possible solutions.
The 2015/2016 Voter Registration Drive, hosted by the Voting is Power Coalition at Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave., introduced several speakers who tackled the topic of voting and why so many choose not to exercise that right.
In 2005, around 224,000 of Oklahomans between the ages of 18 and 24 were registered to vote, according to Tulsa World archives. That number declined nearly 40 percent by 2014.
“The No. 1 issue cited when people were asked why they didn’t vote in 2014 was because they were too busy or not interested,” said Nick Doctor, senior vice president of government affairs for the Tulsa Regional Chamber. “So apathy is our biggest problem.”
Tulsa’s Young Professionals member Brooklyn Brock expressed disappointment with her generation’s lack of interest in politics and the importance of voting.
Brock said it’s crucial for younger people to think about what they want the future to look like, and how their involvement in politics is the only way for that to happen.
“Our young people today are not voting like their parents and grandparents did before them, and I think it’s because they’ve forgotten what it took to get us here,” Brock said. “They’ve forgotten the values that our country was founded on, so I think there needs to be some re-education and remembering everything that’s happened to get us here today.”
In addition to Millennials, several minority and social groups with high populations of eligible voters have relatively low registration numbers, said Mana Tahaie, director of mission impact at YWCA Tulsa.
Thirty-one percent of unmarried women are not registered to vote, making up 28 percent of all unregistered citizens, Tahaie said.
Twenty-seven percent of eligible black Americans are not registered, and 41 percent of eligible Latinos are unregistered, she said.
“These are people who are not showing up on the radar of elected officials and other policymakers,” Tahaie said. “When elected officials do polls about campaign issues, about what messages work for their campaigns, they’re only polling people who are not just registered but turning up.
“So when you think about the number of people who are unregistered, they’re not just underrepresented in the policy-making process. They’re invisible. These populations are invisible to policy.”
It’s no wonder that policies go the way they do when the majority of people who are speaking up are 75 years and older, Tahaie said.
During her presentation, titled “Reaching Underrepresented Populations,” Tahaie stressed the importance of explaining the necessity of voting to these untapped groups without being too overbearing.
She also discussed the need for better education regarding local politics.
“We know that a lot of people are unaware of elections below the presidential level,” Tahaie said. “That’s the election most people who vote think about, and then you have dramatically declining awareness and voter turnout the closer to home that you get.”
Being able to explain the role of city councils and their impacts on society would go a long way in getting people to vote, she said.