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The Cost of a Vote

Going to the polls is more than just an errand on Election Day

By Caroline M. Tervo, Contributing Writer

Election Day, or “the Tuesday immediately after the first Monday in November,” is a big deal. Across the country, eligible voters have the chance to go to the polls and fulfill their civic duty to their country. If you’re voting here in Massachusetts, your ballot allows you to vote for the county sheriff or approve the measure to legalize marijuana (Question 4 ballot initiative).

So what is the cost of a vote?

There’s the obvious opportunity cost of taking the time out of your day to stand in line at your polling place. If you live in a place like Florida or Arizona, the lines might be long. If you’re voting absentee in another state, there’s the cost of a stamp and one or two trips to the mailbox. If you’re voting in one of the 31 states that have voter identification requirements, you deal with the added complication of determining what counts as an appropriate ID and obtaining it if you don’t already have one.

No matter where you vote, you must invest time in researching the candidates, and likely also suffer through campaign calls and television advertisements.

Votes ultimately decide elections. As Michelle Obama recently pointed out, Barack Obama only won New Hampshire in 2012 by 66 votes per precinct. In Mississippi last year, two candidates for the state House of Representatives got the same number of votes; the winner was decided by a coin toss.

If you’re unhappy with your choices at the top of the ticket, consider that things might be different if more than a measly 28.5 percent of all estimated eligible voters from both parties had voted in the primary. And consider how falling voter turnout has impacted the trajectory of our country: turnout rates fell to 57.5 percent in 2012 from 62.3 percent in 2008.

But cost of a vote is bigger than just the numbers. There is inherent value in voting, and a moral price we pay when we do not.

When colonial America decided to go to war to establish its independence, we did so because we believed that the cost of living in a society where citizens were taxed without representation was a violation of the sacred contract between the government and the governed.

Our collective conviction to secure voting rights did not stop there. United States history is littered with tales of sacrifice in the name of procuring a stronger civic voice for future generations. The cost of this sacrifice was high: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, seven suffragists went on a hunger strike, and more than 50 nonviolent protestors were beaten and hospitalized in Selma. Can we morally afford to disrespect those sacrifices by deliberately staying home on Election Day?

For 228 years, U.S. presidential elections have yielded peaceful transitions of power between administrations. But the only thing holding our democratic institutions together, ensuring a stable government that works for every citizen, is our right to vote. It is what separates our country from those whose leaders have torn apart democratic legitimacy through accusations of “rigged elections” and mass disenfranchisement.

On principle, voting matters because it has to matter. Your vote counts because it has to count. It is the only way we can stand by our convictions, fight for the betterment of our country, and build a better future. We vote to affirm the value of democracy, which yes, is a very big deal.

Voting doesn’t just matter during presidential election years—every office on the ballot is important. We cannot allow frustration with Washington or the presidential nominees to keep us from being civically engaged. We cannot allow electoral map predictions to keep us from voting for our next city councilor, state senator, or governor.

If you’re angry about how our country has been run for the past four or eight years, ask yourself where you were on Nov. 6, 2012. Then ask where you’ll be on Nov. 8, 2016 to do something about it. And if you value the leadership demonstrated over the last eight years, remember President Obama’s proud proclamation: “our progress is on the ballot.”

Don’t waste this opportunity. Request your absentee ballot today (the deadline is closer than you think!) Figure out what all of your candidates stand for, and please make sure your grandparents have transportation to the polls. If you’re voting in person, don’t forget to put going to the polls on your calendar.

Ultimately, our country cannot afford the cost of not voting.

Caroline M. Tervo ’18, is a government concentrator living in Pforzheimer House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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