UPDATED: A statistic about the number of Millennials in the United States was added after publication to give further perspective on their proportion of the overall U.S. population.
If getting more people to vote were like a cake recipe, it might read like this:
• In a large glass bowl, dump one global pandemic.
• Add financial uncertainty up to the rim.
• Spoon racial and political tension over the top.
• Whisk until thoroughly mixed.
• Sprinkle incendiary tweets liberally, whether or not they land in the bowl.
• Beat on high for 12 months.
• Turn oven to broil.
• Don’t set the timer. Just throw the bowl in, and leave everyone guessing.
Either anxiety, unrest and tension are working their magic among the electorate, or voters simply are shifting their votes forward ahead of election day to avoid long lines. My money—if I were the betting kind—would be on anxiety, even if people simply are voting early rather than later.
Either way, people want to avoid four more years of one administration or four years of a different administration. And that avoidance is fueled by anxiety over the pandemic, economy, polarization and racial tension, among other concerns.
If turmoil is good enough for drawing people to church business meetings, surely it will work for a national election, right?
Does it have to be that way?
Why aren’t more people involved?
According to at least one measure, almost 40 percent of eligible voters in the United States did not vote in 2016. That’s more than 92 million people—or roughly the combined population of Texas, California, Florida and New Mexico.
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Of course, the combined population of the four states just named includes everyone regardless of eligibility to vote, but eligibility is not the point here. The point is four states-worth of people—including the three most populous and, some would argue, most influential states—simply sat out the vote in 2016.
Shortly after the 2016 election, one website presented a map showing how a fictional candidate named “Did Not Vote” would have fared. You might call it a landslide … or a strategy for the next election. Find a candidate named “Did Not Vote,” and put that person on the ballot.
Perhaps the numbers are too big to appreciate fully. Perhaps we’re just thankful that about 60 percent of eligible voters—more than 138 million people—did vote in 2016.
That sounds like the kind of sighing resignation that follows poorly attended church business meetings, though it’s a rare church that can boast 60 percent of its members voting on anything other than the firing of its current pastor or the calling of a new one—which sounds eerily similar to national elections.
Surely, it doesn’t have to be that way.
But there is hope
Whatever the outcome of this election, regardless what the final total is for voter turnout, there is hope of something better. With all the negative news, it might be easy to miss.
Bradley Bain is one example. The 23-year-old college senior flew home to Dallas from California so he could vote in person. Bain demonstrated his determination to be involved by purchasing airfare to travel hundreds of miles so he could vote in person. How many of us spent hundreds of dollars just to vote in any election at age 23 or any other time?
Voters with Bain’s determination should give us hope—not just for elections and civic involvement, but also for the millions he represents.
What the church can learn from this
Bain is just one member of a younger generation that will not and is not sitting out or standing by—Millennials. His generation is the largest among American adults, estimated at 72.1 million people in 2019—equal to about 78 percent of the number of nonvoters in 2016. In 2018, they outnumbered any other generation in the American workforce.
And, yes, they are voting.
But that’s not all. They also are leading churches and ministries. And they’re not just leading; they’re leading from hope, not hopelessness. When they encounter obstacles or roadblocks, they find creative and legitimate ways over, under, around or through them. The Pastor’s Common is just one example of Christian Millennials in action.
If we are concerned about the lack of involvement in leading and serving the church, we need to do more than watch this election. We need to learn from and follow the lead of the many committed and determined young adults God has gifted, called and equipped for this time.
They have a new recipe for getting involved. Their recipe might make some of us tense, but we can’t deny the idealism many Millennials still possess. It’s not a naïve idealism; the Information Age took care of that. It’s much more like hopeful optimism.
We could all use a healthy serving of that.
Now, about that recipe: I gave Millennials short notice to offer suggestions for improving voter turnout, and here are some things they said.
• Nominate “experienced public servants but not establishment insiders.”
• “Hammer the ‘get out the vote’ message on social media.”
• Simplify and clarify the language used in propositions and amendments. Provide direct ways to research and fact check who and what are on the ballot.
• Provide secure online voting. It worked for the 2020 census.
• Set up voter registration where young adults are instead of where they aren’t.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author and maybe a few Baptists.