Op-ed: Voting: Your right, your duty

Daria Locher, Elizabeth Phelan and Connor Warshauer | The Roosevelt Institute

The importance of voting cannot be overstated. The right to vote forms the lynchpin of democratic government; without the vote we have no way to address the issues faced by our community, state and country. Because voter turnout rates for midterm elections are abysmally low, winning politicians often don’t represent the will of the majority.

The tightly contested race between Claire McCaskill and Josh Hawley has mobilized voters across the state, but college students have historically failed to muster much of a presence at the polls. In the last midterm election, only 18 percent of college students voted nationally, compared to the overall rate of 37 percent.

Even in the most recent presidential election, only 16.6 percent of Washington University students voted, falling shamefully far behind the national average. Students might abstain from voting due to cynicism about candidates, busy schedules or sheer forgetfulness, but most of our voter turnout problem likely stems from a collective action problem. It’s unlikely that one person’s vote will affect an election’s outcome, but if everyone stays home on Election Day, our democracy breaks down. Collective action problems can only be resolved when an entire group decides to behave as a unit and take action simultaneously. Even if we can’t change election results by ourselves, if we all act together, our community can.

The Gephardt Institute registered over 2,000 students using TurboVote, and many more with paper registration forms between Aug. 19 (the first day of Pre-O) and Oct. 10 (the Missouri registration deadline). That might not seem like a substantial number, but a 1974 New Hampshire Senate race was determined by two votes, a 1964 Nevada Senate race by 48 votes and a 2008 Minnesota Senate race by 225 votes. As recently as 10 months ago, a single vote initially determined a state House election.

Your vote and your voice matter, and you have a civic duty to make sure both are heard. Before you cast your ballot, however, make sure you’re informed by checking out the following resources: BallotReady.org, Vote411.org and ballotpedia.org—all have information about who and what will be on the ballot. Additionally, the stop by the office of the Gephardt Institute to pick up printed League of Women Voters election guides.

The Roosevelt Institute will host a series of absentee voter celebrations with information, supplies and giveaways for students who are voting absentee this week and next week. In addition, the Gephardt Institute will be throwing a “Party at the Polls” all day on Election Day. Everyone is welcome at the event, and there will be a booth outside the on-campus polling place with information, giveaways/games, food and a cappella performances.

Together we can change our school’s rate of student engagement and make our campus a more democratically fruitful community. Every individual vote in the upcoming election matters—it is the citizens’ state-sanctioned power to shape the future of our nation. We can’t afford to waste this opportunity to make our voices heard, to take action and foster substantial, meaningful change.

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Phelan is a writer for Student Life.