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When Americans cast their votes, they exercise a sacred right as a free people responsible for self-governance.

All across the United States, citizens are currently exercising that right; some standing in long lines for early voting while others prepare to mail in their ballots.

As Election Day anticipation builds, the act of voting receives more and more attention.

According to reports, half of the eligible voters in the U.S. did not participate in the 2016 election. That equates to almost 100 million citizens.

To put this number in perspective, the margin of President Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton was less than 800,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania combined. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

More concerning is the trend among younger generations. The most recent U.S. Census data reveals that less than 50% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 cast a ballot in the last four decades.

Before older generations criticize younger voters, we need to understand their lack of enthusiasm when it comes to voting.

Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Diversity at the University of Southern California, concluded that studies show “younger voters are not apathetic but do not see voting as an actionable step on something they care about.”

Additionally, younger voters tend to be left out of political discourse and engagement. Older generations like to talk about what’s best for emerging generations but seldom engage them in conversation and discussion.

In other words, younger citizens care a great deal about the issues the country faces, but their ideas and opinions often fall on deaf ears.

However, more recently, younger voters have seen an uptick in participation. Galvanized by school shootings, climate change, income inequality, policing brutality and systemic racism, young voters are stepping up and speaking out. The 2018-midterm elections saw an increase in voter participation among younger voters, doubling from 2014.

As a young man seeking to institute change in America, John Lewis participated in the civil rights movement with a nonviolent passion, denouncing segregation and demanding voting rights for Black citizens in the South.

Recalling the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Lewis said, “Selma is a place where we injected something very meaningful into our democracy. We opened up the political process and made it possible for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to come in and be participants.”

When the Supreme Court struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, Lewis responded yet again, “I have said this before, and I will say it again, the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”

Lewis’ mention of voting being “almost sacred” should shake us to our core. For Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr. and others, the civil rights movement that fought for the vote of Black citizens was driven by a deep faith in God.

Again, Lewis: “The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.”

If Americans can once again be convinced that voting is a sacred act, then each citizen bears the responsibility to educate themselves, engage the process and vote.

While the author of Proverbs may have not been addressing a modern-day democracy, the words are still germane to this discussion, “Casting the lot puts an end to disputes and decides between powerful contenders” (Proverbs 18:18).

Our current situation is dire, but the only way meaningful change and optimistic hope can abound within a democracy is when citizens participate and vote. I’ve been inspired recently by younger citizens, as they peacefully march through cities decrying injustices and demanding a more perfect union.

As an aging voter, I am proud to stand beside the younger generation as they follow in the sacred footsteps of Lewis and King. I walk in solidarity with them, as they march for justice and freedom.

However, the next steps we must all take mean a march to the ballot box. It still remains the most powerful tool for change U.S. citizens possess.

Stay engaged, stay vigilant and vote like your future depends on it because it does.

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