Life is made up of flashbulb memories, events that crystallize in our memories and can be recalled in vivid detail when they come to mind. The election of 2016 was one of those memories for me.
I didn’t set an alarm for the morning after the election. I told my mom to come wake me up that morning with whatever the news was. Despite being a senior in high school at the time, between my mother waking me up and hearing the outcome of the election, I felt like a helpless child. The weight of the dark morning pressed upon my shoulders along with the concept that I hadn’t had a say in the outcome of the election.
Prior to November of 2016, I knew that whoever was elected as president, in this case Donald Trump, would stand as US president for the entirety of my college experience. I also knew that whoever was chosen was entirely out of my control. I felt a certain sense of guilt over the fact that I hadn’t been able to voice my opinion in the election, even though I wasn’t legally able to do so.
Four years later, I now have the ability to use my voice in an election. Because I remember the acute sense of pain in not being able to previously, there will never come an election where I won’t voice my opinion.
The election of 2020, however, does make voicing my opinion difficult. I’ll be honest there, and I’ll be candid about my political opinions. I’m not particularly a proponent of current President Donald Trump’s platform, nor am I completely on board with that of former Vice President Joe Biden. While I might not completely support either candidate’s platform, what I refuse to do is be silent about which platform I support more.
Maybe it’s childhood idealism tainting my reality and memory of the past, but I don’t remember the other elections I’ve lived through looking quite like the past two. I don’t remember such animosity between the two candidates, and I don’t remember such drastic extremes on either side of the political spectrum.
But what I do remember is higher voting rates. In 2016, voting rates were at a 20-year low, with just 55% of able voters actually casting a ballot.
Granted, this might be attributed to the fact that more moderate candidates on either side of the political spectrum warranted more avid support from Americans at large, but that’s just my speculation.
In my childhood, I remember my parents, extended family and neighbors collectively looking forward to each election. I remember family gatherings at my grandmother’s house, where my aunts and uncles, split down the line for political support, talked excitedly about who they were voting for and why, with little to no judgment on either side.
I remember differing political views, but I remember people voting and using their voices to voice those views being the common ground that brought us together.
Now, it seems wholly divisive. And maybe that’s because we’re not doing it. We’re not voting, so we see voting as a threat; the outcome of an election haunts us because we feel it takes our control away if the opposite candidate wins.
But an election, a vote, cannot take our control away if we actively contribute to it.
This year, the election looks somewhat like 2016 due to the fact that the candidates have little to nothing in common politically. But we can’t use the same excuses we used in 2016 when we explain why we didn’t vote.
We can’t say, “I didn’t want to drive to the polls.” We can’t say, “I didn’t want to wait in line.” We can’t say, “My voice doesn’t matter,” because it does.
We can’t even say that we didn’t vote because we don’t truly support either candidate.
We can’t say we didn’t vote. We have to vote.
As American citizens with the ability to vote, it is our duty and our obligation to do so. Some people in this country can’t vote or do not have the ability. There is an incredibly large number of people in this country who would vote if they had the chance, but are prevented from doing so. In 36 states, the requirement of government issued identification in order to register to vote prevents 21 million Americans from casting a ballot.
Certain demographics can prevent citizens from obtaining a valid ID. Older people, people of color and those going through financial hardships find additional, discriminatory hurdles to jump over when trying to obtain an ID.
Moreover, criminal history can disenfranchise American citizens and prohibit them from voting. Only two states in the entire country, Maine and Vermont, permit people with criminal backgrounds to vote. Although there are certain felonies and crimes that might warrant a lack of voting, lower-scale crimes like petty theft and drug use impede on citizens’ right to vote, even if they learn from those mistakes and live a crime-free life after serving time.
Finally, the electoral college does not allow citizens of US territories, such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, to vote. Even though the outcomes of said votes impact the lives of these people, they are silenced and not allowed to contribute to the political system that rules over them.
Voting is both a right and a privilege. When you don’t vote, you undermine that for the people who are physically unable.
The electoral college is an extremely, inherently flawed system, and there have been times where the voices of the American people have been quieted by the same system intended to allow them to be heard. Most recently, this occurred in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush attained the presidency, and again in 2016 when the same thing happened with Hillary Clinton receiving the popular vote and Donald Trump winning the presidency.
However, the fact that your voice might be overshadowed is not an excuse to not try to make yourself be heard. Because while there is the off chance that your voice might be overshadowed, there’s also a bigger chance that it won’t be. Your voice still matters, even if you tell yourself it doesn’t.
This year, more than ever, our excuses not to vote are minimized. Given the pandemic, mail-in and absentee voting are much more available. Despite some speculation over mail-in voting, it’s an undeniable fact that it makes the process easier and more convenient. You don’t have to drive anywhere or wait in a line to cast your ballot. The ability to vote from home gives us even fewer reasons and excuses to say why we didn’t vote
If you think that you have little to gain from voting, think about the others who your vote benefits. Although there are people who do avidly support either party this election, the majority finds themselves in a tough spot where they’re choosing between the lesser of the two evils and therefore aren’t necessarily looking forward to casting a vote or supporting either one. But think about their platforms. Think about which platform furthers an agenda that you think people in our country can benefit from. Then, vote for that candidate.
Hopefully, next election, we can look ahead to voting with anticipation and excitement rather than fear, anxiety and dread. But for now, we have to do what we can to supply our country with a leader who we think is best suited for the position, whoever you think that might be. Even if you’re not in agreement with those closest to you regarding who would be best suited for said position, voting for a candidate your friends and family doesn’t agree with is more respectable than not voting.
Regardless of whether you support Biden, Trump or a third party candidate, use your voice to support someone. And if you don’t vote, unless you can’t vote, don’t complain about the results of this year’s election.