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The Carletonian

If you are able to vote, there is no excuse for not voting

< avoid any misunderstandings, I want to preface this piece by explaining that in no way am I referring throughout to people who are disenfranchised by our country’s corrupt election system. These people include but are not limited to: undocumented people, people who are unable to get the necessary time off from work to vote, people with certain illnesses or disabilities that make the typical voting procedure inaccessible, incarcerated people, and people who, often due to race and socioeconomic status, do not have a functioning polling station within their home area. I also want to make clear that my argument is strictly focused on the electoral system of the United States. Choosing not to vote is a reasonable and sometimes necessary measure for any change to occur in other countries, but that is a conversation for another time.

I am concerned more with the many individuals who in a fully conscious and voluntary manner choose not to vote. Throughout the existence of the U.S., there have been numerous philosophical arguments made against voting. I’m now going to discuss why these arguments make no sense, particularly in the current U.S. political environment.

George Carlin, the famous comedian and social critic, referred to elections as “an illusion of choice.” This line of thought often connects to ongoing concerns over the loads of corporate money assembled into elections. More recently, nonstop chatter about Russian interference in the 2016 election results has served as a source in delegitimizing the power of individual votes. While I personally oppose both corporate manipulation and foreign tampering in elections, they should not be used as an excuse not to vote. Yes, the U.S. is not a direct democracy. While I like the idea, in theory, of voting for issues and not politicians, there is not really a sustainable way of doing it for large populations in an effective manner. There are many ways to rally against corrupt national systems. However, by not voting because of these systems, there is more power given to figures in support of any corruption that devalues democracy. I am not being idealistic when I say that every vote counts.

Somewhat related to Carlin’s point, another common argument I hear from this anti-voting pool of thought is that all the candidates are too horrible to vote for. Someone who I was working with over the summer, a proudly self-proclaimed Tankie, insisted that Hillary Clinton would have been as bad as Donald Trump, and so he did not vote in 2016 (despite him being from Pennsylvania, a notorious swing state). I cannot see alternate realities but I can still say with tremendous confidence that that would not be true. If anything, statements like these only show how entitled some of these people are. Nobody is saying you have to love Hillary, but the false equivalencies must stop.

I personally cannot think of a single politician that I fully agree with on every proclaimed policy matter. Some are also a little too indifferent on issues that I am passionate about. Does that mean I do not vote for them? Of course not. In a successful democracy, the goal should not be for “ideological pureness,” but supporting candidates who both align the most closely with your views and in some cases seem willing to modify their positions for the common good. Remember, Barack Obama had not publicly endorsed marriage equality when he first became president, but that changed within a few years of him holding office. Humans are not statues.

Basically up until now in this piece, the underlying emphasis has been on the 2016 national election, the one that indisputably got the most attention in recent years. However, so many Americans fail to recognize the importance of local elections. Some of Trump’s decisions will directly affect you, but not at the same degree as those serving your area in particular, from your mayor to your senator. The turnout rate for the national elections is already quite low, but turnout for state and local elections is just a blatant abomination. I acknowledge that some of the source for the low turnout is unfair disenfranchising practices that I discussed earlier, but those not facing said restrictions can do their part in raising these rates. U.S. politics functions as a chain and every figure involved works together in some way. None are objectively more or less significant to you.

With all these factors in mind, does that mean we should make voting mandatory? I don’t think so. As I discussed in the beginning, various factors are responsible for barring individuals from voting. Based on other U.S. political and social trends, I am convinced that enacting voting requirement laws would disproportionately harm low-income people and people of color.

What we can do is make voting as accessible as possible for everyone. We can lessen the stringency of voter ID laws (let’s be real; voter fraud is barely an issue and conservatives just milk it to further disenfranchise left-leaning voters). We can make Election Day a national holiday and provide other measures to ensure that all workers can get some time off to go vote. Lyft announced this summer that it would offer reduced and free rides for the day of the upcoming midterm elections. This is a fantastic start, but we can still find additional ways to lessen the burden of transportation to polls. Also, we can make early voting a more mainstream system. Perhaps we can establish a fully functioning online voting method. As of 2016, 22 states permit online voting. Our society already does so many functions online, which makes me wonder what is holding us back in this regard. With all these stated measures in place plus more, I am convinced that the turnout rate would rise dramatically.

Furthermore, more individuals would be able to become engaged with our country’s political system. While not a guaranteed result, I am convinced that this further overall engagement would encourage more people to run for office. We would have a more diverse platform of candidates and sometime down the road we could abolish the two-party system. I fully get that people are irritated about having to vote for candidates that they hate just to avoid a worse candidate. I’ll admit that if I had other options I may not have voted for Hillary in the 2016 general election. However, I think here is an example of a situation where working within the system to reform it is the better option, long-term. Also, the pairing of voting with large-scale grassroots activism is the ultimate dynamic for societal change.

To those who continue to refuse to vote despite being fully able to, what are you trying to prove? Do you want a drastic and violent overthrow of the status quo? In the current political climate, that’s just another way of saying that you do not care about the immediate needs of those around you. You just want to sit around, post radical memes on Facebook and wait for your beloved revolution to occur. Instead, do something meaningful, like maybe drive your friend who doesn’t have a car to the polls on Election Day.

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