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George H. Lambert, Jr.

The current presidential election season already feels like the longest in history. We have seen and heard so much about the candidates that it’s hard to remember what it’s all about. If we are to have, in Lincoln’s immortal words, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” then the people need to vote. And yet the United States, which sees itself as the greatest democracy in the world, lags behind every other developed nation when it comes to voter turnout.

There are no simple explanations for this problem—or should we call it a crisis? Nor are there simple solutions to remedy it. I believe, however, that we all can play a part in boosting voter turnout in our communities and that as a society we should make it a priority. Here are a few thoughts.

Beyond the White House. There’s no doubt that this presidential election is important, but all the attention on the race for the highest office in the land is distracting us from other contests. I encourage the news media to devote more focus to local elections so that voters are better informed and make better choices.

The Black vote. In recent years, black voters have turned out in greater numbers than white voters. Nevertheless, we can and should do better. Nonprofit organizations like the one that I run can’t endorse candidates, but working to improve turnout is fair game.

The millennial vote. This is the group of Americans who came to adulthood around the year 2000. More than 40 percent of the 80 million people in this vital demographic belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. Despite their reputation for apathy, they are actually passionate about social justice. Two out of three millennials told USA Today that they see police violence against Black people as a problem. The challenge lies is convincing them that their vote matters. We know that millennials are constantly on their smartphones. I hope that there’s a technology genius out there right now who’s coming up with a killer democracy app. 

The District vote. We have seen the “Taxation without Representation” slogan on license plates for so long that it’s easy to forget how unfair it is that nearly 700,000 people have no Congressional representative. Surely this historic disenfranchisement leaves D.C. residents feeling that their vote doesn’t count. 

Election reform. More and more states are making it harder and harder to vote. Wisconsin is perhaps the worst offender. North Carolina’s voter ID laws have also drawn controversy. Organizing to block and overturn unfair election laws makes our society more just. The lessons of the Civil Rights moment should still be fresh in our minds. Be sure to teach them to the younger people in your community.

Our democracy may not be perfect, but it’s the only one we’ve got. Even if none of the candidates fires you up this election, there’s no excuse to shirk your civic duty. Vote for the “least worst” candidates and wear your “I Voted” sticker proudly.

George H. Lambert, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.