With the presidential debates approaching on Monday, Sept.26, we’re heading for the culmination of this election. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will get three chances to debate with each other before Election Day on Nov. 8. According to John Avlon at CNN, the debates provide
“the best chance to get their message to the widest number of people – and that’s what campaigns at their core are about. The fact that there is a risk involved in debates just reflects the real stakes of the race for
the most powerful job on earth.” So why don’t more U.S. citizens (particularly college students) vote in elections?
Data from the Census Bureau reports that only about 65 percent of the voting age population was registered to vote in 2012. And voters between the ages of 18-24 have voted at consistently lower rates. In 2012, the voting rate of this group was 38 percent. But The Economist explains that low voter turnout is not an effect of laziness or apathy. Young people historically have been active in politics and social movements, but frustration with the political system and voting laws can deter students from voting.
Registering to vote is itself not a difficult process. Websites such as turbovote.org and rockthevote.org are designed for young people and make registration easy. The website for the Secretary of State where you live (for example, michigan.gov/sos) can also provide information on voting specific to your state. There are several rules to watch out when registering. According to Michigan’s Secretary of State website, “a person who registers to vote by mail must vote in person in the first election in which they participate.” There are also important dates to keep in mind when registering for an absentee ballot. For out-of-state students, get information on absentee ballots on page seven of Features.
As for frustration with the system, it is true that Americans do not directly elect their presidents. There is the Electoral College with 538 electors, each state getting a number of electors equal to their number of members in the House of Representatives (based on state population) plus one elector for each of their two Senators. For example, Michigan has 16 electors based on 14 representatives and 2 Senators. Electors are pledged to a potential candidate and whichever candidate wins the popular vote in that state receives the votes. This process is different in Nebraska and Maine, but the main point is that even though you are not directly voting for your favorite candidate, your voice counts and can help your candidate win in your state. The candidate who receives the majority of electoral votes wins the office. This is why candidates can seem to focus on large states (more electoral votes) as well as states that have no overwhelming support for one candidate over the other (“swing states”).
The voices of everyday Americans matter. Your vote as a college student matters. According to Dr. Virginia Beard of Hope’s Political Science department, “leaders will not take issues that affect college students directly into serious consideration if college students do not vote. When issues like student loan rates, educational standards and admissions policies are on the ballot, who else is better qualified to vote than those currently experiencing the implications of such initiatives?” The significance of the presidency cannot be overstated. Many factors influence policy decisions, but the president is seen as a symbol for our country and will be remembered throughout history.
This election already has large historical significance. According to NPR, Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential candidate of a major American political party (Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in 1872). We are standing at an important place in the history of our country. Our president and their party can influence daily life.
So if you are able to vote, do it. Information about where the candidates stand on the issues is easily available if you take the time. If you are passionate about something, chances are the future president could have a say in that issue. Vote even if you still think your voice does not matter. Vote even if you’re not usually “into politics.” Vote for your friends who are not eligible. Vote because some of your ancestors could not. Says Dr. Beard, “many people fought for the right to vote. No matter a person’s race, gender or age, their right to vote came at a price. Honor the sacrifices others made so that your voice could be heard when theirs was not.”