If you’re 18-years or older in the United States, you can legally vote. But in 2014, only 36.4%of eligible voters cast in their ballots, according to the Washington Post. This was the lowest voter turnout in the U.S. since WWII. If you aren’t ashamed of yourself yet, you should be.
You learn in school that voting is important (really important). You’re not forced to vote like in some countries; it’s entirely voluntary. As a college student, the American political system is very disheartening. You are disconnected from your state representatives, and you may have even lost your interest in politics altogether.
You need to abandon this mindset; forget everything you think you know about voting because we’re going to start from scratch here. According to the US Government:
“One of the most important rights of American citizens is the franchise — the right to vote. Originally under the Constitution, only white male citizens over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. This shameful injustice has been corrected and voting rights have been extended several times over the course of our history. Today, citizens over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right to vote, regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. However, in every state except North Dakota, citizens must register to vote, and laws regarding the registration process vary by state.”
Voting is one of the very few platforms in the U.S. where everyone over 18 is equal, regardless of your race or ethnicity, sex or gender, sexual preference, disability, religion, job, income, socioeconomic status, etc. It doesn’t matter who you are; you are on equal grounds to everyone 18-years or older around you.
Unfortunately, this statement is no longer true. In case you haven’t been watching politics in the past few years (you’re not alone), I’ll catch you up. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
“Since 2008, states across the country have passed measures to make it harder for Americans—particularly black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities—to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. These measures include voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and purges of voter rolls.”
What does this mean? Some politicians are making it harder for some populations of Americans to vote. You can hear more about this issue in the video below, entitled “Election 2012: Let People Vote” by ACLUVideos.
Of the 22 states that passed voter restriction laws in 2014, 18 of them were entirely Republican-controlled bodies (according to this article from the American Prospect). According to a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "'restrictions were more likely to pass ‘as the proportion of Republicans in the legislature increased or when a Republican governor was elected.’ After Republicans took over state houses and governorships in 2010, voting restrictions typically followed party lines” (full article here).
There is a racial aspect to voter suppression laws too. These laws are used to dissuade (or even stop) minorities from voting in state or national elections. The Washington Post wrote that “restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election.” Some politicians and government bodies are taking very deliberate action to restrict some groups of people from voting.
These politicians are also targeting college (and college-aged) students. The New York Times wrote about several instances in North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio. (If you are unable to view the North Carolina website, a screenshot of of the website is copied below for convenience).
College students and young voters make a huge difference in elections when they choose to go out and vote. The same New York Times article writes:
“Nationally, voters under the age of 30 represent a big voting bloc. They cast more than 20 million votes in the 2012 presidential election, accounting for about 15% of the total, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning Engagement, a nonpartisan center at Tufts University. And in North Carolina, their turnout in 2012 was about 57%, among the highest in the country.”
If you still need more reasons to vote, look at the 10 reasons below as outlined by UNC Charlotte:
Your vote matters. You are living in the U.S., so the state and national policies affect you. You can’t escape politics, and if you’re unhappy with them, do something about it. Join a political movement. Find the issues that matter most to you, and find the candidates that share your views on those issues.
Especially in this upcoming national election, your vote is going to be very important.
The 2016 presidential election is going to be very important because of the diverse political beliefs in the running (as of right now). Candidates have proposed beliefs on free public college tuition, illegal immigrants, LGBT legislation, women’s health and rights, #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality, and many other domestic and foreign policies. If you want your beliefs to be heard, you need to vote.
How? Ask yourself the following questions.
1. Are you registered to vote?
If not, check out this website to learn how to register (it’s very easy to do so online). You can read about absentee ballots (and if this is the best option for you, especially if you’re in another state going to school and want to register to vote or are registered to vote in your home state), and find out what to do here.
2. Do you know who is running?
If not, you need to read up on the different candidates and their platforms. You can do so through this article by the New York Times. Know where the candidates stand on issues that are important to you.
If you’re unsure of who you most agree with (since there are so many candidates), take quizzes like I Side With and On the Issues, answering as honestly as you can and to the best of your abilities. These quizzes aren’t absolute, but they will tell you which candidate(s) should best match your beliefs.
Also consider looking at the campaign websites for each of the candidates (which we will not link because there are too many and they are easy to find if you google them). If you don’t have the time to look at each individual website, The Atlantic has compiled a “cheat sheet” on all of the candidates.
And 3. Do you know all of the important deadlines?
If not, remember to look into your state’s deadlines for registering, the primaries, and the actual election. You can view them here and here. Always be weary of dates, since it’s going to be very important in this election that you register on time (if you haven’t already), and that you vote on time. There are politicians who are going to try to make it very difficult for you to vote, but it’s important that you do everything you can to be prepared.
If you want to get involved with your candidate’s campaign (which is very easy to do), all you have to do is visit their websites and find the volunteering section. It should list contact information on how you can get more involved in the campaign (or simply make a donation). You can get involved by volunteering (calling phone numbers, talking to other voters, getting the candidate’s name out there), and you can become involved in fundraisers and rallies if you’re interested in that level of commitment. All you need to do is reach out to your candidate’s campaign team.
I cannot stress this enough, this presidential election you need to vote. You need to vote for the candidate you best think should be president. The next 4 years are going to be very crucial to American (and global) politics. You have a voice, and you need to use it.