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A ballot is perhaps not as exciting as an actual birthday present, but it is a powerful privilege we can use to create change.

PETERSENI recently turned 18 years old — officially an adult, with all the benefits.

I can now drive after 11 p.m., get a tattoo, buy fireworks, skydive, buy a house, purchase a lottery ticket, legally change my name and adopt a child, among other perks.

All of these privileges are granted through laws decided by people we elect. So perhaps the greatest gift of turning 18 was casting my first ballot.

Voting gives you the opportunity to make a significant change; yet even with Oregon's easy vote-by-mail system, my generation of voters often ignores this privilege. Americans aged 18-29 are a bigger population group than seniors over age 65. However, in the 2016 presidential election, mores than half of the younger population did not vote, while more than 70 percent of seniors did cast a ballot.

It's a reminder that our government functions according to the voice of the people — but only if the people use their voices. Millennials and younger generations are currently the most culturally diverse in America. To get them involved in campaigns and caring about their vote, candidates need to reach out directly to this group of voters and their concerns, such as solutions to the astronomical cost of college and the subsequent debt.

Another way to engage younger voters is to start connecting high schoolers to political candidates and causes of their choice. A high school could link students with volunteer opportunities across a wide spectrum of political interests. At school, I notice students are incredibly tolerant of different political viewpoints, but no one is truly reaching out to engage them in becoming politically active.

We do learn about voting history. In sophomore year, Lakeridge High School students learn how difficult it was a century ago for women to convince men — and sometimes other women — of the need for equal representation in our government. Women had to follow the laws, but did not have any say in who was making them.

Thanks to suffragists such as Oregonian Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon became one of the first states where women were able to vote, even before the 19th Constitutional Amendment was ratified. As I voted, I celebrated the victories of these women, who led the way so we could fully participate in our democracy.

While it is easy for younger voters to dismiss their ballot as another to-do list item and not take the time to learn about the candidates and measures, we need to think about what would happen if we did not have a say. A ballot is perhaps not as exciting as an actual birthday present, but it is a powerful privilege we can use to create change.

We all just need to work a bit harder to connect first-time voters to issues that matter to them.

Lakeridge High School senior Claire Petersen is one of two Pacer Notes columnists. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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