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Across the country, many people question whether or not their vote matters, and for good reason. With big corporations funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, it sometimes feels like what transpires in our country is simply out of our control. However, the ability to vote is the one way we can give our input into what we want for our country’s future, and too few people are taking advantage of it.
The rising popularity of social media has seen the likes of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook become hubs of political discussion, and the younger generations have made the most of this. Many social movements have been sparked online, and many have been educated about the world because of them. However, whenever those who desire change fight for an issue in this country, it seems like too often we don’t see it to the end. We protest, we march, and we educate, but that doesn’t seem to translate into actual legislation. The effort is there, but we cannot rely on politicians and large organizations to make change.
Protesting can’t be the end of the fight; it should be the very beginning. This energy has to continue all the way to the voting booth because the best way to make tangible reform is to change those who represent us and the laws that govern us.
The 2020 presidential election saw a record turnout, with 66.7 percent of the voter-eligible population participating, but local elections still don’t receive nearly as much attention. Nationwide, only 27 percent of eligible voters vote in the typical municipal election in 2018, even though these local governments control $2 trillion across the country. Additionally, these local elections aren’t truly representative of the actual population, with most voters who end up being white, richer, and older voters. If we truly want to see massive change across the country, we need to focus on maximizing our use of the rights we have.
That maximization requires actually voting. Many people care about the association with the aesthetic of caring about Black Lives Matter, voter suppression, and mass incarceration but aren’t invested in the actual issues themselves. To many, these issues are a way to gain social capital and look “woke” to those around them. A post on social media can be extremely powerful, but it means very little if people don’t express their beliefs through their vote. Especially in our generation, too many people are putting “#blm” in their Twitter bio while ignoring their local election day.
A good example of only caring about aesthetics is the movement to reform law enforcement. We can and must push loudly for police reform, but we must also remember that local governments control a lot of how the police operate. Your local police chief is likely decided by your mayor or another local governing body, and this plays a big role in how local police operate as a unit. If we focus on increasing voter turnout to elect a mayor and city council members that represent our views as a whole, the legislation that governs us will naturally begin to follow suit. Politicians listen to those who vote for them, and until we increase the representative population, many of these issues will remain.
Now, I don’t mean to attack those who don’t vote. Political parties have purposefully made it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote to benefit themselves, which has manifested itself in many different ways. Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and felony disenfranchisement are genuine issues that hinder many from exercising their right to vote. Additionally, many local elections occur in odd-numbered, off-cycle years when much less focus is placed on elections in general. Thus, a lot of us feel like what we do doesn’t matter and don’t see the point in it, and this is understandable.
However, our hopelessness doesn’t have to continue. Research has shown many policies can be implemented to improve voter turnout. Automatic Voter Registration and preregistration have greatly increased voter turnout throughout the country in places they have been enacted. AVR broadly means that eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote when they get a driver's license or interact with other government agencies. Pre-registration involves having either 16 or 17-year-olds “pre-register” to vote, and when they reach voting age, they are automatically added to the voting rolls. Furthermore, moving the date of local elections to coincide with state or federal elections can also significantly raise turnout and save taxpayer money.
We need to cultivate a culture that shows people their vote matters at every level, and these policies would definitely help achieve that goal. No matter if it’s for the president or a city council member, every vote matters. Once we can collectively accept this reality, the country will truly improve.
Julius E. Ewungkem ‘24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Matthews House.
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