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The Self Shelf: The value of voting, part II

Published: November 5, 2010
Section: Opinions


A couple months ago, I wrote to you about the intrinsic value of the act of voting. I wrote about how it was the most important act one could undertake in a democracy—how making your views known in the most fundamental of ways was the best way to celebrate your American heritage. At the time that I wrote you, I was being completely hypothetical. I had never voted before in an election as I was not eighteen at that point in the 2008 election and was not able to register before the special election in January. Thus, last Tuesday was the day I finally got to prove that I was not a hypocrite and actually did believe all those patriotic things I was saying. And honestly, I’m proud to say that I was, for the most part, right.

I had everything planned out on Tuesday—I was going to go home to Seekonk (about an hour away, near Providence) and vote in my high school. Honestly, in retrospect, I should have just taken an absentee ballot, but there was something appealing about reaping the fruits of my civic education in a former place of academic education. I had a shift driving the BranVan at 4 p.m. (I had to pick up my keys by 3:50) so I had to get home and back to campus rather quickly. My plan was to leave for home at 10 a.m. and leave for Brandeis at 2 p.m.

Naturally, I ended up leaving at 11 a.m. and, because of strategic lunch considerations, ended up having to drive back to school at 2:45 p.m. Upon arriving at 3:42, I promptly ran what seemed like an endless three quarters of a mile from J Lot to public safety and arrived to pick up my keys with a minute to spare. Yet I had found the time to vote and that was all that mattered.

For as soon as I entered my old high school gym and received that ballot, it may sound corny, but I literally felt the empowerment of making my voice heard in a democracy. As soon as I filled out that ballot and submitted it to the tally machine (which hopefully didn’t suffer any unfortunate glitches—Ohio, I’m looking at you), I realized that I was now officially a part of the community. The social contract is a concept I toss around in debate rounds all the time, but it’s quite a different thing altogether when you actually exercise your rights to influence government.

Like many people, I have a lot of problems with the way the government runs. And, like many people, I have been very vocal about these problems (see any of my previous columns). Yet the only way I have really impacted the system is to cast my ballot. One can argue back and forth about politics all the time, or join the Brandeis (fill in the blank) as an advocacy group but the only way we really make a difference in the system is by voting. This is why I took the time out of my day on Tuesday to hand in my ballot despite the fact that it almost made me late to my job and was a huge inconvenience.

I’m not going to pretend that I think my vote made the largest difference in the world. The candidate I voted for won by thousands of votes. Yet it still makes me feel good to know that one of those votes was mine. One of those millions of voices was my voice and, to a small extent, I was able to influence the election.

Is there more you can do than just vote? Of course—I had an industrious first-year friend who helped his local candidate win his seat in the House of Representatives by staying up nearly six nights in a row knocking on doors to elicit people’s support. His candidate won by 3,400 votes in a district with more than a hundred thousand voters—he and his team knocked on more than five thousand doors on election day and made more than thirty thousand phone calls. Naturally, there is more you can do than just vote and that is an incredibly commendable feat. But, for the lazy rest of us, to take the 10 minutes to an hour to (if you’re like me) five hours it takes to vote is a pittance compared to the benefit of having our voice heard.

As I said in my first article in this series, young people are the most underrepresented group in the union. We have essentially disenfranchised ourselves and then we wonder why candidates don’t pay any attention to us. The first time young people were ever really considered relevant in an election was in 2008 and, even then, only to a small extent in comparison with older voters. If we ever want to be taken seriously in the electorate, we have to get out there and vote.

Yet there are ways to help alleviate the apathy of young people and it starts and ends with the Internet. Already, Facebook has become the rally point for a generation of young political enthusiasts. I would advocate, however, for giving people the ability to vote online. Now I realize that this seems practically infeasible. Naturally, the threat of fraud would be increased many fold. If the government can conduct sensitive defense operations via the Internet, however, I cannot imagine why we cannot have elections via the Internet. You could sign up for the service and thus forfeit your vote in your local gymnasium (so there would be no people voting twice). Such an action by the government would, I would argue, engage many more young people than the current system. This is not an excuse for the status quo—we should still vote—but that does not mean that making voting easier is a bad thing.

Nonetheless, I would strongly recommend voting to everyone reading this article. If you do not vote, you are not having your voice heard, and you are implicitly approving the status quo. Even if you don’t like any of the candidates, a write in vote for Grandma is better than no vote at all—at least then politicians will realize that you are willing to participate in the system.

On a final note, I would recommend taking the day off from work …