What is one fewer vote in a sea of 138 million?
This seemed to be the question on a lot of my American friends’ minds as this country headed into the 2018 midterm elections. It’s an important one — what is the effect of one person’s opinion in a restless, ever-changing political landscape? When the candidates you’re voting for seem so disconnected from your daily life and their platforms inconsequential in the face of some blue or red “wave” that periodically washes over an already fickle government, why even bother?
Having never voted in any elections in my life, these questions were especially intriguing to me. Despite my fervor reading, writing and raving about the midterm elections every single day for the last two years, I did not have the chance to #MAGA or #resist President Trump’s government yesterday. I am not a U.S. citizen, and my native country has not had an election since I came of age two years ago. As an incredibly political person, this is a strange feeling.
On one hand, I am deeply interested in politics. My friends like to joke that it is one of the only two pillars of my personality, right next to an unsettling obsession with oddly specific internet memes. I am constantly fascinated by world leaders, their sidekick politicians and judges and how all of the above interact with the constituents that they seem to represent. What is the desirable outcome when drafting a law? Why does anyone ever run for president? And is the political climate ever decided by its people, or is it prewritten in a country’s destiny by some mysterious political cycle?
On the other, I have never had the chance to effect any change, however minuscule, on any of these larger concepts. I can write about immigration, debate the Republican tax plan with conservatives and protest income inequality to my heart’s content, but when the time comes, I could not translate this energy into that priceless little vote.
But does it matter? How significant is that one extra trip to the polling booth if I’m already so involved in the political process?
It’s quite significant in my heart. It may very well be that free will is an illusion and that Americans are merely playing out the part that some political cycle has in store for them — Republican today, Democrat tomorrow. But history is proof that despite whatever deterministic cycle or barriers that may exist, it is the voter who ultimately seizes their fate at the end of the day.
And while political disasters are present throughout history, I crave the chance to join that chorus of voices that shape and continually reform democracies, to scream into the political void regardless of who is listening. The vote is an empowering instrument, and through my time immersing myself in American politics, I have missed it dearly.
This desire to cast — or even touch — the elusive ballot is a confusing one for me. I believe this urge comes partly from never having voted in my life, but through this midterm cycle, I have also questioned why it is that I care about voting in a country that is not even my own. After all, as an immigrant, my time in the United States is seemingly temporary, so the concerns and ambitions of this country should be irrelevant to me. Yet, in the days leading up to the election, I couldn’t help but refresh FiveThirtyEight’s Senate Forecast to check on my favorite Senate prospect, Beto O’Rourke of Texas — a state I am not even a resident of. So what if O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz? For that matter, so what if he won? The U.S. Senate is so far removed from my life that I may never directly feel the effects of these midterm results.
Yet, through this race, I recognized that it was impossible for me to stay indifferent. After every Trump rally, every poll result, I found myself ranting to friends and updating my social media statuses. I was actively picking sides, canvassing, protesting and thinking hard about this country’s problems. And in the process, I slowly realized a simple truth — that my genuine concern was a result of the fact that great political endeavors are often not so much about their outcomes as they are about the very act of struggling for change.
By rallying for income equality, the rights of immigrants and a better government in a foreign country, I found myself thinking about these issues in other contexts of my life — how these grand political events and theories applied to my personal narratives, how they manifested in different ways across the world and how easy it was for me to relate to the complaints of another country’s people.
For all its shortcomings, the democratic process remains the clearest way to translate human struggles to sweeping societal shifts. And while the lack of my vote in a sea of millions may seem insignificant, this midterm season was a reminder that your vote counts for more than just your voice. I made sure that my voice was heard, but ultimately, my fate and that of millions in this country who couldn’t vote last night were in the hands of those who could.
We vote for those that cannot, for those from the past that afforded us this sacred right. And we vote for those in the future, those relying on us to make the right choices to change the course of history — as daunting as that task may be.