Seriously — you should vote
With the passing of Labor Day, election season has unofficially begun. Yes, I said election season — but don’t panic, we don’t have to relive the horrors of another presidential election quite yet. On Nov. 8 of this year, we will have to settle for a boring old midterm. In fact, you may find this midterm so very boring that you feel tempted to skip out on voting. “It’s just a midterm, what difference can it make,” you may say to yourself. A number of feelings could underlie your desire to do something better with your time than vote. Maybe you feel there won’t be anything important on the ballot, or maybe you’ve never voted. Maybe you just think your vote won’t matter. Perhaps you take a less casually indifferent stance and are more stridently opposed to voting; you may think that voting is an irrational waste of time.
No matter why you feel hesitant or skeptical about voting, I want to push back against any hesitation or skepticism that you may harbor. I want to prove to you that, seriously, you should vote (and you should start planning now). Starting with the cliche and then moving to the pragmatic, and even the cynical, here are some worthwhile arguments for why you should vote.
First: voting is your civic duty (whatever that means). If that convinced you, then you must really love America, because that doesn’t even convince me.
Second: voting is an incredible privilege that you shouldn’t take for granted. America is far from perfect, but I still think it is important to appreciate what an incredible privilege the right to vote is. Certainly, from a historical perspective, the opportunity for us as ordinary citizens to collectively decide who runs the government is an anomaly. You need not go far back in time or far away to find examples. Only sixty years ago, activists in the Civil Rights Movement risked imprisonment, assault, and even death to ensure more equal access to the ballot box in America. The right to vote mattered so much to these people that they were willing to sacrifice everything — you can’t spare an hour?
With that said, you may appreciate the right to vote and the sacrifices that were made for it, while still believing that it is a waste of time for you personally to go to the polling place. “My one vote won’t decide the winner,” you may think. I want to take this claim seriously, so let’s first address it on its own grounds.
Third: technically, your vote could matter. Elections, even tiny local ones, almost never come down to one vote differences. However, it is not mathematically impossible for extremely improbable outcomes to occur. Take the recent Republican primary in Pennsylvania, for example. Over 1.3 million people voted, but Dr. Mehmet Oz (yes, that Dr. Oz) won the election by just 951 votes. That’s a margin of 0.0007 percent. Sometimes elections, even large ones, are really close. If you favor one outcome over another, is it worth letting chance decide the winner? It’s true, your singular vote probably won’t decide an election, but not voting has real consequences. The inconvenience of voting rarely outweighs the potential downsides of bad candidates winning or policy initiatives you dislike being put into effect.
Fourth: even though your vote won’t decide an election, it voices your preference. I will concede that it is astronomically unlikely that your vote will matter in the sense that it single-handedly picks the winner. But even if you vote for a losing candidate or initiative, there is still a benefit to voting; you voiced your preference. Why does voicing your preference matter? Well, let’s take Donald Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 as an example. Trump received less than fifty percent of the popular vote, even though he was elected president. It may not be immediately obvious, but the close nature of this election almost certainly made Trump and Republicans nationwide more moderate than they otherwise would have been. If you don’t believe me, imagine a world in which Trump received eighty percent of the vote. Republicans would have taken a landslide victory as a signal that it is safe for them to pass the most conservative laws they could come up with.
A more realistic example to think about is Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in the primaries, but he and his voters still had an impact on the Democratic Party by pushing it to become more progressive. It’s impossible to say for sure, but Joe Biden and the oldest Congress in American history passing a slew of progressive policies (namely, an expansion of Obamacare, long-awaited climate legislation, and the cancelation of some student debt) seems less likely without pressure from politicians like Sanders and their voters.
It is still true that your vote alone won’t have that much of an influence, but that doesn’t mean that your singular vote won’t matter. Your vote matters as much as it is a constituent part of a voting bloc (say, young adults) that is analyzed by politicians, journalists, academics, and all other sorts of politicos. Admittedly, your vote often makes up a very, very small part of the whole and your individual impact is correspondingly tiny. You may find that frustrating, but social change in a pluralistic, democratic society often advances at a snail’s pace. If you have opinions for how America, your state, or your local community should be, and you want to have an impact, then you have to play by the rules of the democratic game. The best place to have your voice heard is at the polling booth.
Fifth: it is in your cynical self-interest to vote. Even if you don’t buy any of what I have said thus far, I still think the pros outweigh the cons of voting. Why? Well, if you don’t vote people will judge you and think less of you. You may not think that is fair of them, but that won’t stop them from judging you. Not voting has downsides that immediately affect you as a social human being which can be offset with (often, but not always) little effort on your part.
Whether you believe in civic duty, you want to voice your preference, or you are acting out of cynicism, I think your best bet is to turn out to vote. You may be thinking: “okay, I’ll vote, but why are you telling me this in September?” For one, some states require you to register a full thirty days before the election (meaning Oct. 10). Additionally, if you don’t have a passport or Missouri ID, then (for reasons that are outside the scope of this article) I would recommend that you start planning how you will vote now. A couple of options are to get a passport or to vote absentee by mail in your home state. Either way, now is the best time to check your state’s Secretary of State website, register, and to get all of your documents in order so that you can successfully return your ballot on Election Day. It may feel early, but you don’t want to be seen on November 8 without your “I voted” sticker — I know I’ll have mine.