Millennials could be forgiven for losing faith in the political process over the past four years, but instead they are mobilizing, as the stakes for American democracy have never been higher. Actor and activist Jesse James Keitel, recognizing the urgency of this upcoming election, is on a mission to get out the vote and inform as many people as possible.
“These issues start from the ground up,” Keitel said, “and if we had more voter-age adults actively engaged in our political systems, we would have a government that actually appeals to the majority of Americans. Frankly, as it stands, I don’t think we do.”
Keitel, who uses both they/them and she/her pronouns and is currently starring in Big Sky on ABC, said it was frustrating to see how easily people discounted their own vote. “I find it heartbreaking when people say their voice doesn’t matter,” they said. “It can definitely feel like that, the amount of time and money and effort that goes into elections, it can feel like a lot of wasted time. But it’s not.”
Keitel pointed to Bernie Sanders, an unlikely icon for millennial political rallying. “He started a political revolution with young people—this old man inspiring young people to get involved in politics,” Keitel said. “Maybe he didn’t win the nomination, but he single-handedly helped shape the next generation of politicians, and not just politicians, but voters.”
Coming into the 2020 election, Keitel is hoping to inspire as many young people as they can. On their Instagram, @jessejameskeitel, there is a link for people to register to vote. “You need very little information to register to vote and it’s pretty quick and simple,” they said. “I think a lot of people are nervous about the process or they think it’s much more difficult than it is. It’s not.”
“That being said, some states make it incredibly difficult,” Keitel said. “Mail-in voting shouldn’t be this wildly contested divisive concept. It’s been around since the civil war. You can get a birth certificate in the mail, you can get your social security benefits through the mail, we got our pandemic relief fund through the mail, there’s so many important things that come through the postal service. It makes no sense to me that it isn’t more widely accepted.”
In California, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington D.C., absentee ballots were mailed out to all residents who are registered to vote. In many other states, the usual requirements for who can apply for an absentee ballot have been lifted, meaning anyone registered to vote can apply for a mail-in ballot. In Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, however, restrictions are still in place for people applying for absentee ballots.
There is still time to register to vote. The deadline to register is October 19 and can be done so at www.usa.gov/register-to-vote. For people looking to apply for a mail-in ballot, the deadline to apply as an absentee is October 29, and can be done through individual states websites. Mail-in votes must be postmarked at the latest by November 2.
Keitel felt the disappointment and disillusionment of the 2016 election, but they are determined not to become cynical about politics. “Cynicism doesn’t get your voice heard,” they said. “You need to be your biggest advocate and help elect people whose opinions and beliefs and goals most closely reflect the life you want to live.”
“I’m sure it has felt like this is past generations,” Keitel said, “but it really feels like there’s so much at stake right now.”