By Zachary Newman
This past Election Day saw the lowest voter turnout for a midterm election since 1942. On November 4th, 36.3 percent of Americans mailed in ballots, waited in lines, did whatever they felt they needed to do to be heard. The voter turnout for the 1942 Federal Election was less, but not by much. At 33.9 percent, the difference between the two was just a mere 2.4 percent. While it is hard for this country to get excited about voting—even worse for something as arguably banal as United States Midterm Elections—the fact that most of the country didn’t vote is problematic in that it reflects a lack of initiative on our parts.
This is not to say non-voters are without reason; in fact, their reason is painfully understandable. The U.S. electoral process is broken and at risk of further destruction. Critics of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have recently started to implement tighter restrictions on voting. States such as Georgia and South Carolina have required voters to present ID before they can vote. These voter ID laws are racist and classist in practice, if not in design. If you can not afford a passport or state ID, does your voice not matter?
There is also the matter on how downright confusing voting is in our country. The U.S. does not vote based on the popular vote—like it logically should—but rather through the electoral college. Each state has a certain amount of electoral college members who vote towards candidates. Their votes are weighted more so than the amount of popular votes. If you were to skip out on an election, sure, it would affect the popular vote numbers, yet not the electoral colleges vote. Critics say that, ultimately, your vote does not matter.
The vote itself does not matter; the act of voting does.
Voting is just one example of participation in our democracy. Participation is key to changing the way the country is run; participation pressured Nixon out of office, ended the draft, and made the government recognize that black folks are people too.
Think of voting as this—it is your voice. If you can not demonstrate in the streets, if you can not run for office, you can always vote. But was not always this way.
After the Constitution was ratified, the only people who could vote were white, land-owning men. It took Alice Paul and other suffragists nearly 150 years before white women received their right to vote, and that was after stories of their abusive treatment in prison came to light. Another 45 years after that, black people received their rights as well, after more than 400 years being denied basic human rights. The conservative politicians and judges who pass and allow voter ID laws are trying as hard as they can to undo these years of toil and hardship. It’s sickening.
Americans should rise to this challenge. Voting does not solve everything, but it is a way for us to get our voices out, and a step in the right direction. Washington joins Oregon and Colorado as states that have all mail-in ballots. We’re lucky; it eliminates the grippable act of waiting in line to vote. We should not just vote for candidates and candidates alone; politicians are largely untrustworthy and pretty skeevy. Initiatives are arguably more important than candidates. It is how Washington passed the recent gun control act and marijuana legalization.
People often say that they join our nation’s military because they felt it was their “national duty.” I don’t agree with the idea of blowing up children as our national duty—I feel like voting is. Not because voting is a miracle—it’s not—but a chance to reaffirm our nation’s ideals and a way for us to get our voices heard. There’s a litany of other ways to be heard, but voting stands as one of the more simple and effective ways to. The system may be in shambles, but we the people can change the system, even if all we are doing is voting.