Young Washingtonians talk about why they may not vote in 2024

But fellow university students are working to get them excited about the democratic process and engaged with local elections.

student photos

University of Washington students Kenai India, Tara Namie and Ethan Yamamoto chime in on the upcoming election. (India and Yamamoto photos: Curran Nielsen for Cascade PBS; Namie photo: courtesy of Tara Namie)

Four years after a record number of young voters helped elect President Joe Biden, many young people are planning to abstain from the upcoming presidential election.

In 2020, the matchup between Biden and former President Donald Trump was an emotional election during a stressful period in the nation’s history. Young voters motivated by issues like climate change, racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic voted in record numbers – more than half of registered voters aged 18-29 turned in a ballot – according to several political advocacy groups.

This year, for a number of reasons, young people have expressed their reluctance to vote in a rematch between the same two candidates, both white, over 75 and male. 

Kenai India, 19, who was not eligible to vote in the past presidential election, does not plan on casting a ballot this year.

“I’m not a fan of Trump and I’m not a fan of Biden,” said the University of Washington junior from Scotts Valley, California. More than that, he sees both men as unfit for the job, claiming they are too old, ill-spoken and do not convey a sense of confidence and command that he feels is necessary for our president.

“I feel too much personal responsibility for whoever is president,” he said. “I could vote for either one of them, but I would still feel personal responsibility for when problems arise.”

Ethan Yamamoto, 22, also may not vote but because he doesn’t feel strongly one way or another. The UW senior from Seattle voted for Biden in the previous election.

“I’m pretty indifferent,” Yamamoto said. “If it’s convenient for me, then I’ll vote. If it’s not, then I just won’t vote.”

Evan Ashpes, a 20-year-old UW political science major from Washington, D.C., is tired of the prospect of another man being in office.

“I live with nine girls,” Ashpes said, “In the conversation that we have about politics, that comes up every single time.”

Ashpes is the communication director for Young Democrats at the University of Washington, and is passionate about politics but discouraged about the upcoming presidential election.

“It’s just past the point where I feel like I’m on a path where there’s going to be a country or political world where I’m able to insert myself, as a woman, and accomplish what I would want to do in office – or put the people who I want there.”

UW senior Joey Krueger shares a similar sentiment.

“Personally, I don’t look at either of these candidates and feel any semblance of hope, or inspiration, or passion.”

Krueger plans to use his right to vote, but in a way that may surprise some: “I’m gonna vote for everybody but the president.”

He is one of the developers of a tool called Clear Vote. It was made to increase interest in voting. However, their focus is on improving voter turnout for local elections, which averages less than 40 percent, according to Krueger.

Washington set a new record for low voter turnout in 2023, a local election year. Statewide, 36.4% of registered voters turned in their ballots last fall. The previous record low was 37.1% in 2017.

According to the Washington Secretary of State, voter participation in presidential election years is much higher. In 2020, for example, 69% of Washington’s voting-age population cast a ballot and 84% of registered voters turned in their ballots. The Washington Legislature has discussed but not passed a bill that would have allowed local governments to move their elections from odd to even years to attract more participation.

“Clear Vote is a platform for local voters,” Krueger said. “Not just to engage with the voting process, but to find it fun and enjoyable.”

Organizations like Clear Vote argue that the presidential election is one of the least important elections yet it garners the most attention. They claim that policy implementation at the local level more directly affects the public.

“We’re so focused on the president,” Krueger said. “We’re so focused on Joe Biden and Donald Trump that we forget the real source of change is from people we can directly interact with – city council members, county assessors, port commissioners.”

Some young people feel no hesitation about voting in the upcoming presidential election. Tara Namie, 22, a political science major at the University of Washington, works as a constituent services intern in Sen. Patty Murray’s Seattle office. When it comes to voting, she is not reluctant at all.

“I think this stuff is so interesting,” she said, “It’s all about reading human behavior and trying to predict human behavior. That’s all voting is.”

Namie understands why some people are apprehensive. She knows that politics can be exhausting and that many are exasperated over repeating the same election four years later. Even though she enjoys the whole process, she is also exhausted.

“Even as someone who’s interested in it, it’s impossible to keep up,” Namie said. “So that’s alarming for people who really don’t care.”

Namie believes that one of the biggest contributing factors to young voters’ reluctance is their desire for change. They are worn down by the slow pace at which the federal government solves problems and fear that the future will be more of the same. A repeat election with the same candidates from four years ago reinforces that fear.

“I totally get the exhaustion of hearing these two names and wanting none of the above,” Namie said. “But the reality is, we have Trump and Biden, and one of them is going to win.”

She is worried that so many people are putting their faith in voting for a third party when she believes there is no chance for a third-party candidate to win. She understands wanting a president who represents the voter, but she urges people to remember that you’re not just voting for one person when voting for the president.

“The administration is what represents you, not just the person,” Namie said.

Along with that, the large number of other elected officials are much more accessible and have a direct hand in implementing policy.

Maya Matta, a community organizer for the University of Washington student government, echoes Krueger’s statement on the importance of local elections.

“But even more important is municipal and state,” the business major said. “I think municipal elections are really important because it’s like the tangible impact that you kind of see.”

Huskies on the Hill is a tri-campus lobbying effort in which students from all three University of Washington campuses go to Olympia with their legislative agenda.

Matta, along with co-director Kim Ugaddan, described how the student government-sponsored group tries to encourage young voters by making the act of voting itself more fun.

“We’ll recruit small bands that are a part of campus,” Ugaddan said. “We’ll have them perform while people come into the HUB Lyceum and they can place their vote.”

When they are not organizing their lobbying efforts, Huskies on the Hill also runs a Get Out the Vote drive which, depending on the election cycle, can focus on local, regional and, this year, presidential elections.

“If you don’t like the way something’s done, then go and do it,” Matta said. “That’s really the only way that we can change any of the systems that we think need repair.”

Charles Vo, the 23-year-old president of College Republicans at the University of Washington, recognizes voter reluctance as a large issue for all parties in the upcoming election. The political science and international security major from Tacoma is also working to change the narrative around the election.

“I’ve been trying to get people to see the lighthearted moments in politics,” Vo said. “When we think of politics, you think of it as serious and [how] the fate of the nation rests on our hands. And I think that bearing responsibility adds a reluctance to that topic. And so education is definitely part of that.”

But this is serious business, counters UW’s Young Democrats.

Nolan Degarlas, 22, president of the UW chapter, aims to work with other clubs to organize Get Out the Vote drives in order to get young voters excited to vote.

“So you need to get people excited about not just necessarily the candidates that you have,” said the political science and history major from Mountlake Terrace. “If you can get people excited about the democratic process and exercising your rights, there’s also the aspect where if we vote, we can actually get the policies that we want and we need to be enacted.”

Organizers and voters agree the answer to voter reluctance is education. “Stuff like this is not taught in our public schools and it should be,” Tara Namie said. “I’m a big believer that education can solve all of our problems. So the fact that it’s not prioritized is really alarming to me.”

Huskies on the Hill sees voter education as an investment in the future.

“It’s about getting involved now and getting educated now, seeing the way processes work now,” Maya Matta said. “So that one day hopefully we don’t have to be put in a situation where we have two candidates that we're very unhappy about.”

Namie believes if organizations are able to change the way voting is taught, then more voters will understand the impact of casting a ballot.

“People don’t care because they’re not taught that it’s important,” Namie said.

In response to this need, Clear Vote has developed a political measurement tool called the Politigram, which helps voters track candidates in five categories: prosperity, utilitarianism, liberty, community, and humanitarianism.

A delegate who scores high in community, for example, would promote policies beneficial to different cultures and push for collective decision-making. A high liberty score would show more individualist principles, a transparent decision-making process and honesty in following through on campaign processes.

Krueger, one of the Clear Vote creators, explains how these categories are more related to the reasoning behind political actions rather than the actions themselves.

“We’re actually going to track candidates and now we’re going to give that power back to the people,” Krueger said.

As the country prepares for the election, these students and young people plan to spend months educating voters about how they can affect policy. Their almost-universal goal is to increase turnout and make sure young voters recognize the power their vote holds.

“We are a very, very important voting demographic,” Young Democrat Evan Asphes said. “You are involved and you should be putting people into office who are going to advocate for you.”

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Curran Nielsen

Curran Nielsen

Curran Nielsen is a University of Washington student studying Journalism and Global and Regional Studies. She can be reached on Twitter @curran_nielsen

Taylor Richmond

Taylor Richmond

Taylor Richmond is a University of Washington student studying journalism and public interest communication. You can find him online @BTayOkay.