Everybody has an opinion around election time. I like this candidate. I hate this candidate. I’m a one-issue voter. And on and on. I’ve always been struck by the number of people who have strong opinions about candidates, but don’t vote. The numbers are staggering. In the 2016 general election, only 60% of eligible voters actually voted. Particularly disappointing are the voting rates of young people (18 to 29) which consistently hovers right around 40%. It’s not that we don’t think voting is important. In fact, in a 2018 Pew Research Center report, 91% of registered voters indicated that voting is important. Voter suppression efforts, natural challenges of getting to the polls, weather and many other factors explain the discrepancy between those who think voting is important and those who actually vote. But I think the primary cause is the feeling that our votes don’t matter. That no matter what we do, we can’t as individuals affect outcomes.
Louis Brandeis, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1916 to 1939 wrote “the most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.” That “office” comes with rights and obligations and the most important obligation is to vote. Not voting is an implicit endorsement of the status quo. Voting is exercising our freedom to pick our leaders and express our views. While it’s true that we may vote for a candidate who doesn’t win, our vote still matters. It’s hard to see this today, but voting lets our leaders know what is important to us. It’s a true measure of public opinion and politicians eventually care about public opinion.
It is not enough to sit at home on facebook or twitter and “make your voice heard” by complaining online in an echo chamber. We have to actually step up and vote. I read a quote recently: “Talk is cheap, voting is free.” Talk is cheap, but voting isn’t free. Beginning with the country’s founding and continuing through wars, economic difficulties and civil unrest, the right to vote, particularly for women and black people has been earned through the ultimate sacrifice of others. Voting isn’t free, but it is our obligation.
Voting will take many different forms this year. Showing up to vote does not necessarily mean physically going to a polling location on November 3rd. In fact, voting early and voting by mail may be the best way to ensure your vote is counted this year.
There are resources listed below that will help you determine how to vote and how to vote by mail if you choose. Just remember to send in your ballot as early as possible.
If you are concerned about your mail-in vote not counting, you can vote early in many states. Voting windows vary in each state, so check with your state board of elections for details. Here in Chicago, I have heard several people say that they are not going to bother to vote because Illinois is a blue state and always goes democrat. Don’t fall into that trap. There are local elections, state-wide elections and ballot referendums. Wherever you live, your vote is important, will be counted and will matter.
If you really care about the direction of our country and the outcome of this election, vote. It’s that simple.