“Why vote?” “It doesn’t matter.” “It makes no difference.”
Each election cycle, I hear people making these sorts of comments, and it makes me sad. While these sentiments are understandable, they are simply not true. Here’s why your vote counts, and why you should use it:
Every four years, America elects a president. This person acquires numerous powers, including the ability to veto laws, control foreign policy, appoint government officials, and, during their tenure, act as the spokesperson for and the face of the nation. A recent example of executive power’s importance can be found in President Obama’s 2015 veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, which prevented the transfer of dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf of Mexico. Looking ahead, the next president will get to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of former Justice Antonin Scalia, which could affect everything from abortion rights to the use of money in politics. Whomever we elect this November will inherit these powers, so it would behoove us to put someone in the Oval Office that will use them wisely.
Not yet convinced? I don’t blame you. The Electoral College makes it so the same handful of states decide virtually every presidential election, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of both the major party candidates. Don’t lay down your ballot, though! If you’re frustrated with the system and find you cannot identify with either candidate, you can always vote third party. Doing so tells the country there are American citizens who are dissatisfied with the major candidates and the current election process. Moreover, if a third party receives just 5% of the popular vote, it secures federal funding and gains greater ballot access in the next election cycle. So, whether as a protest vote or an act of party building, your vote has an impact even if you’re not writing down “Clinton” or “Trump.”
“What if,” you say, “I just don’t want to participate in the presidential election?” Maybe you don’t like any of the candidates, or feel that the White House is just too distant from the goings-on of your home and community. Well, that’s fair. But you should still vote! The presidency is only one of myriad elections taking place in a given cycle. In addition to that seat, there are 12 gubernatorial seats, 34 Senatorial seats, and 435 House seats up for grabs in 2016—and that’s just at the federal level! In almost every state, seats in either the state house or senate will be up for election; in total, a whopping 5,920 seats! In addition, 165 ballot measures will be voted on in 35 different states. California alone has 18 propositions on the 2016 ballot, including banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, upholding the plastic bag ban, and legalizing marijuana (did that get your attention?). The amount of elections taking place at the local level is even greater, with available positions for mayors, city council members, judges, school board members, and much more in cities and counties all over the country. A counterintuitive reality is that the further down the political hierarchy you get, the more immediately impactful politicians’ actions are to you and your community. For this reason, learning about, and casting a vote for candidates at the state and local levels is a responsibility that must be taken seriously.
Then there’s the incredulous refrain: “my vote doesn’t matter.” It feels like that sometimes, I will admit. Thankfully, the evidence tells us otherwise. Higher voter turnout leads to more liberal spending policies, in vital areas such as healthcare and education. Participation in the voting process also impacts government responsiveness to income inequality. Our social and economic welfare depends on our civic engagement, and this works both ways. If higher voter turnout leads to more spending and redistribution, lower rates of voting have the opposite effect. In 2014, U.S. voter turnout was a paltry 36.4% of the electorate—the lowest since World War II. In this light, it is no wonder that the distribution of wealth and income has become the most unequal since just prior to the Great Depression. Frustratingly, the poorer and younger you are, the less likely it is you’ll vote. This permits wealthy individuals and corporations to elect representatives that will preserve their interests—often at the public’s expense. We need to break this cycle.
Finally, I’d like to address the purists, who declare that they won’t settle for anything less than a complete overthrow of the imperialist capitalist white-supremacist patriarchy. To them, I say: “common dude.” Many of us would love a revolution, but it is unlikely that we’ll get one before November 8th. In the meantime, our planet is drowning, our children are going hungry, and our people are getting shot down in the street. These pressing concerns require immediate action. Galvanizing the vote could bring on desperately needed reforms in the short-term while we continue working toward the long-term goal of more systemic change.
Voting matters. Starting with the President, through the House and Senate, and on down to states and localities, your presence or absence in the political process determines the type of individuals that occupy our government offices, and by extension the kinds of policies that get implemented. If we want to address racial justice, economic inequality, climate change, and the host of other issues facing our nation, we have to show up to the polls. If not, get comfy, because the status quo will not change. At best, voting is a fulfilling act of social responsibility that leaves you feeling more educated and democratically active than you were before. At worst, it is a bi-yearly chore that, while tedious, absolutely must be done. Either way, I urge you, for your own sake, if not for our society’s and planet’s, vote! No more excuses, just do it.
- Register to vote.
- Check your status.
- Request a mail-in ballot.
- Learn more about your federal, state, and local elections.
[Austin Tannenbaum is the opinion editor as well as a weekly columnist for the Redlands Bulldog]