In America, we disagree about many, many things these days. We disagree about how to address racial justice, about whether climate change exists, about whether or not to wear masks. We even disagree about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. Despite all of these differences, however, we can agree on the importance of upholding democracy, on the founding principle that the government derives its power from the consent of the governed. The most fundamental way of exercising your own power in the runnings of this country is voting. So this November, if you do nothing else outside of binging Netflix and wondering how we arrived at the apocalypse, vote. Vote like your life depends on it — because our lives do depend on the policies enacted by the people whom we vote into office.
Of course, you should always vote in every election. Voting is your fundamental right and responsibility as a citizen; how can the government ever change or improve if you do not send a message to politicians with your ballot? This November, however, election day feels particularly weighty. The nation is in the midst of a deadly pandemic, with over 200,000 dead. Protests for racial justice have rocked cities from coast to coast, forcing yet another national reckoning on discrimination and injustice in the country. Hurricanes and wildfires have battered the east and west, respectively. It’s so easy to feel helpless and hopeless and powerless right now. What’s one excellent way to channel that frustration into meaningful change? You guessed it — vote.
No, voting is not going to magically fix the nation’s problems, but it is such a simple way of exercising your voice to steer the country in the right direction. Do you want the government to address climate change more aggressively? Vote for candidates up and down the ballot who support the Green New Deal. Do you disapprove of the government’s foreign policy? Research candidates whose views align with your own and vote for them. Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, Independent or Libertarian or Green Party, young or old, white or Latinx or Asian-American or Black, your voice counts, and you can and should project it all the way from your home county to Washington, D.C. with your ballot as a microphone.
Some of you might object, “Why should I vote? I live in a deeply blue/red state. My vote doesn’t count anyway; it’s not going to change anything.” While it is true that, if you live in a decidedly red/blue state, your individual vote will not change the outcome of the national election, one vote is still infinitely more impactful than zero votes. It’s a choice between having some (albeit small) say and no say at all. Also, while your vote might not flip a red state blue or a blue state red, it will influence how blue or how red your state is — which certainly makes politicians think twice, as it could influence how much they pay attention to the demands of voters not of their own party. Let the nation know that you are there.
Others might say, “I only have one vote. No matter where I live, that isn’t going to do much. Politicians never listen anyway.” First of all, one vote really can decide an election. Second of all, what if everyone decided not to vote? Sure, one vote doesn’t often make a huge difference, but an accumulation of hundreds or thousands or millions of individual votes that are never cast means that we cannot have a government that is truly by the people, for the people.
Still others of you may protest, “I dislike all of the candidates. None of them supports the policies I believe in, so I am just not going to vote.” It is understandable to be disappointed in the lack of choice; unfortunately, our system is flawed, and we almost never have a chance to vote for an “ideal” candidate. It is not compromising your principles to vote for a candidate who is imperfect; you are supporting a candidate who might be more easily persuaded to adopt those principles, which is where other forms of activism like protests, petitions, volunteering, and organizing can come into play. Voting is not a solution to all of the nation’s problems, but change has to begin somewhere, and voting can be one step in the right direction.
Additionally, in view of the highly contentious nature of the presidential election, it is easy to forget that other races are important as well. Influential local and state offices are in play this November, from state representative to attorney general to mayor to city council. While it may seem like local elections are less important, they are in fact just as essential or even more so than national elections. After all, local officials implement changes in your neighborhood, state, and city; one might argue that the policies they enact have even more of a direct effect upon your life than federal policies. Also, national change can build from the local level, so make sure to fill out your ballot carefully for all offices, not just the Oval Office.
Finally, we would like to encourage college voters in particular to vote. It’s true; as a generation, we have a lot to complain about regarding how today’s leaders have handled current crises. At the same time, it’s rather hypocritical to protest about the need for change and then not vote if you have the opportunity to do so. College-age voters (those aged 18-24) make up about 12% of the electorate; if we all turned out to vote, politicians would not be talking so often about securing “the white suburban vote” or “the senior vote.” Instead, they would be talking about appealing to college voters, and probably making cringe-worthy Instagram posts or TikTok videos to try to “relate” to the younger generation. A small price to pay for a powerful say in the nation’s government.
In sum — vote. If you haven’t registered to vote yet and the deadline hasn’t passed (Pennsylvania’s is on October 19th), register. And then vote. If you would like to vote by mail-in ballot, make sure to send in your application for a ballot as soon as possible (if the deadline hasn’t already passed; Pennsylvania’s is October 27th), and then vote, sending in your ballot as soon as possible since mail service may be slow due to the influx of mail-in ballots. Your mail-in ballot could be discounted if it arrives late, but laws vary by state. If you’re planning to vote in person, make sure you know where your polling place is, and try to vote early if possible. Make sure you stay safe and distanced while doing so, and be aware that lines may be long so arrive with plenty of time to spare! Also, check your state’s voting regulations to make sure you fill out your ballot correctly and place it in the secrecy envelope if applicable. Then, track your ballot online to make sure it arrives and is processed correctly.
Lastly, kick back with your favorite snack and watch the election results roll in, or simply relax with your favorite book or TV show if you can’t stand the suspense. You may feel disappointed or happy or absolutely disgusted and horrified with the results of the election, but hey — at least you can say that you voted.