PITTSFIELD — Millennials make up roughly 31 percent of the national electorate, but have the lowest voter turnout rate of any age group.
This is especially true for younger millennials between the ages of 18 and 29. In the 2012 Presidential election, just 19 percent of those who fell within that age range cast ballots, according to the Pew Research Group.
On Thursday, the student organization MassPIRG held a forum at Berkshire Community College to encourage younger voters to get more involved politically and civically. Roughly 40 people attended the one-hour session. The majority were college-age students.
Eight Berkshire politicians representing various offices, including a mayor, a state representative, two candidates for state office, a candidate who lost in a state primary, and four sitting Pittsfield city councilors, participated.
Moderator and BCC government professor James Arpante, a former city councilor, asked the panelists why they believe voter turnout among millennials is so low, what issues they believe millennials care about, and how important they believe it is for millennials to become involved in political campaigns.
The answers varied. Many of the panelists urged those in attendance to become involved in both local and national politics, stressing the difference each vote can make on any issue.
"Think in terms of what it means for your life," Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer said.
They also said that if young people have issues that they feel are relevant, they have to let politicians know what they are,
"It's not enough for us to think we know, we have to ask you and you have to tell us," Tyer said.
"If you don't talk to us, we don't know what you're thinking," said Ward 5 councilor Donna Todd Rivers. "It does matter, you matter and your vote matters."
"Quite frankly, when you talk to an elected official, if you don't vote you don't count," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. "It sounds pretty severe, but when it comes to elections, you knock on the doors of the people who vote."
"Voting is a way to get our attention," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol.
Farley-Bouvier said millennials who become involved in a political campaigns receive opportunities for leadership and advancement "in a pretty quick way."
"If you're looking for resume building, working on a campaign is a good way to do it," she said.
Andrea Harrington, who lost to Adam Hinds in the Democratic primary for state senator earlier this month, pointed out that her campaign manager was only 19 years old.
"I think it's important for young people to know that they have so much power," Harrington said.
During a question and answer session, BCC student Jack Quattrochi asked the panelists what they would tell people who view this year's presidential election with hopelessness.
Farley-Bouvier said every vote matters in this election because the two major party presidential candidates "couldn't be farther apart."
"The choice you make at the ballot box is critical," she said.
Following the forum, Quatrocchi, who is 21, said members of his generation view this year's presidential election as both a "joke" and a "hoax" and that people he knows have no idea who to vote for.
But he believed that Thursday's panelists provided useful information.
"I think it should be less about the candidates," he said of the election, "and more about the issues."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.