Last week a friend asked me at lunch, "Do you believe in voting?" I responded, "Well, of course" and then paused to think. Why vote?
I live in New Mexico, and we are a competitive state, but not a battleground (if you are in a battleground state, stop reading this and just go vote). Polls show President Obama is up by an average of 9.3%, and Democrat Martin Heinrich up an average of 10.5% in the race for U.S. Senate seat. Would my one vote really make a difference?
As part of a campus-wide effort to increase voter turnout, I helped to collect cards from students pledging to vote. The hardest part for many came at the bottom of the card where it asked why they were voting. Common responses included, "It's my civic duty," "Because I can," "It's my right," "I love America," or simply ":)."
So why vote? After some heated conversations and a lot of thought, here is my best answer:
1) All Politics Is Local — The signature phrase of former House Speaker Tip O'Neill could not be truer. Your vote at the local level has large effects on your life -- whether it is driving laws, the minimum wage, immigration laws, or funding for your college. Since Congress has eliminated earmarks and hasn't passed a budget in three years, local bonds are one of the few remaining sources of money to invest in parks, libraries, education, bridges, and roads.
2) The Popular Vote Matters — The popular vote allows a president to send a message to Congress that the nation supports his policies and vision for our government. It will make it easier for him to accomplish the things you believe in and hopefully have voted for. It's like sports: it's not just about the team's skill, but it's about the crowd that's behind them.
3) Electorate Interest Groups Matter — When I am in Washington working on youth policy, one of the most common responses I get from policymakers is, "Well, if your generation just voted..." So let's do it! We are proving to be a key-voting bloc in a number of states, such as Virginia and North Carolina.
No matter which state you live in, if we reliably show up, our policymakers will start reacting to our interests, as they will see us as essential to becoming re-elected. It's like cheering for your favorite player: you show that you have their back. We must show the same to our policymakers, that if they cast votes in our interest, we won't let others vote them out of office. The only way to do this is to show up election after election.
4) Be a Trend-setter — This election we might possibly have the lowest youth voter turnout since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote. And if you don't vote, you are to blame for that. Every time you don't vote and talk about it, you make your friends, parents, or siblings less enthusiastic and less likely to turn out. Imagine saying you're not going to the game this weekend. As you well know, one bad attitude has a ripple effect. Be a trend-setter and let's make sure this election our voices are heard.
5) We Are a Democracy — If your reply still is, "Alright, well my one vote isn't going to matter among the 128 million votes that will be cast," you feel exactly as I do going to a sports game. My one voice cheering only matters a little, but it's about me and all of my friends standing and saying, "This is important to us." Go to the polls because you support democracy, our ability to elect the people who govern us, and our right to be free.
It is quite possible I have missed something, so add your reasons to the comments section below. But if there is one thing you do — go vote. I have already mailed my ballot in because I refuse to be left out of the crowd.