Power to the people: Why your vote is essential in elections

Josh Kahen/Staff

Voting is a chore. Voting takes time. Voting won’t make a difference. These are all common explanations, or excuses, for not participating in election cycles. They seem to point to feelings of indifference, insignificance and even frustration and laziness in the United States electorate. 

But for the millions of citizens who have to work multiple shifts to support their families, who don’t impart much meaning on voting because politics and Washington seem so far away while very real pressures pile up with every bill, simply pointing to something like laziness as a cause for their lack of voting would not only be misrepresentative, but offensive. All Americans should understand; life can get in the way. Health, work and many more tangible priorities take primacy over casting a ballot.

But to the nonvoters who aren’t facing those challenges, who feel above or removed from the interest of politics, there are fewer explanations to choose from. The latter type seems to be especially popular in states like California, where eligible voters often figure their votes are insignificant in elections consistently dominated by a single party. But voting has consequences beyond which candidates are elected — it also leads politicians to focus on the concerns of the demographics that turn out the most.

For the last several decades, young people have been eclipsed by older generations in the polls, and the results have shown, with politicians making the protection of Medicare and Social Security central to their campaign promises. But the 2018 elections drew 26 million millennials — almost double the amount in 2014 — and 4.5 million Gen Zers, and politicians have adjusted, notably with climate change policy and calls to introduce more college debt forgiveness legislation.

But there’s no guarantee that young people, including millennials and Gen Zers, many of whom are in college now, will turn out in high percentages in 2020.

Many members of both demographics use social media as their platform for political expression, blazing with critiques and maintaining a callout culture. Expectantly, there’s a limit to this kind of political activity, which occurs not so much in an arena of discourse but in a vacuum. Even former president Barack Obama criticized “woke” social media culture, commenting in October 2019, “That’s not activism; that’s not bringing about change.” But that’s not to say that social media is useless: Some people of color feel that social media gives them a platform to advocate for issues that matter in their lives. That’s fine and right, but if the extent to one’s political action is tweeting, not much is bound to change in the public arena.

Elections, enter. Change occurs by voting in not just national elections, but in local, municipal ones that force you to look up who your candidate for city council is, who you should vote to put on the county board of supervisors (or find out what a county board of supervisors does) or what statewide ballot measures would do as law. This kind of education can seem like work that’s boring and time consuming. For many, finding the time between actual work, whether it’s long shifts at the dining hall or a daunting computer science problem set, can seem like a lot to ask.

But voting and educating yourself on the issues and candidates is essential to the operation of our federal republic. There’s no other way. The fact is, if you don’t vote, someone else will. Thankfully, the sometimes banal, discipline-necessary civics work is alleviated for you: Candidates have websites, bar associations release qualification ratings and counties and states send out voter information guides, which contain pro and con arguments for ballot measures.

But you may be thinking, what about voter suppression? Debate has the floor. The implications of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder are being contested seven years later, with voting rights advocates alleging that states are implementing discriminatory voting laws, like requiring voter identification, while proponents argue that such laws strengthen the validity of and public trust in our election process. Voter list maintenance — or, depending on how you look at it, voter purges — are federally mandated and are the “foundation of everything else in election administration,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. What about access to voting locations? Every state allows absentee and by-mail ballots for voters who are ill or disabled, as well as those not in their county on election day, and 33 states offer this feature without even requiring an excuse. Only seven states do not provide absentee ballots for people who have to work during voting hours (seven more than there should be).

Voting is a right that has been achieved for all, regardless of race or gender, only through long, intense struggle. No right should ever be taken for granted, and the right to vote, which is preservative of all other rights, should be no different.

Contact Alex Dang at [email protected] .