Unless you’ve been totally buried under course assignments and studying for tests, you know that the US midterm elections are coming up on November 6.
How to vote: The basics
If you’re new to voting, here are some helpful tips:
- Register to vote if you haven’t already. (Many states offer online registration.)
- Find your polling station.
- Read a sample ballot.
In some states, the voter registration deadline has passed, but in 18 states and the District of Columbia, you can register all the way up to (and including) Election Day.
Proof that your one vote does count
In choosing not to vote, students often say that they feel like their vote doesn’t matter. We could be pedantic and say that many elections have been decided by one vote, that the 2016 election was settled by 80,000 people in three states, or that the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes in Florida.
But instead, let’s talk logic. Let’s say that no election had ever been decided by one vote, in which case each person’s individual vote really did not matter. Rationally, it may make sense for an individual to decide not to vote.
But, collectively, if large segments of the population make this seemingly rational act not to vote, then the people who do vote have an outsize influence over every aspect of our lives. This makes the act of not voting an irrational act at a societal level. (It’s worth noting that voter turnout rates are low in the United States compared to the rest of the world.)
That’s what’s happening to young voters—and college students—in particular. In 2014, only 18% of college students voted, according to a study by Tufts University. For all age groups, 2014 had particularly dismal turnout, with only 36% of eligible voters casting ballots.
As Course Hero’s new study guides on American government show, persons aged 65 to 74 are about three times more likely to vote than persons aged 18 to 24.
American Government: Campaigns and Elections in the United StatesSee study guide
The reasons for this are many:
- Younger voters don’t always register, which prevents them from voting.
- Older people generally are more stable in their residence; younger voters move frequently, and they have to update their registration or they cannot vote.
- Older people may believe they have more at stake in elections since campaigns tend to emphasize programs that affect seniors, such as Social Security and Medicare. Conversely, younger people may falsely believe that campaign issues don’t apply to them.
But there are some hopeful signs that younger people are eager to vote. According to a recent Tufts University study, 34% of people aged 18 to 24 are “extremely likely” to vote in 2018. And in 2016, those aged 18 to 29 were the only age group with higher voter turnout compared to 2012.
If all of this doesn’t get you motivated to vote, maybe former President Barack Obama’s quirky video in which he debunks all the excuses we may have to stay at home will. In his words (about 2 minutes in):
“The way you wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist, why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?”
What’s at stake in the 2018 midterms
You’ve probably heard at least once (or many times) that this is the most important election in the country’s history. No matter your political leanings, it’s true: the 2018 midterms are the most important election ever. And in two years 2020 will be the most important election ever. And so on. That’s because each election is a crucial renewal of American democracy. The outcome of an election tells us who we are as a country and how our beliefs and values are evolving.
What’s at stake on November 6? Almost everything: All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 seats in the U.S. Senate, and 36 governorships—in addition to countless state and local officials and ballot initiatives. These representatives will make decisions that impact everything in our lives, from the minimum wage workers make to the interest rate on student loans to how much we pay in taxes to the requirements for voting to how accessible health care will be and how much it will cost to the protections we have at our job, and so on.
Vote as if your future depends on it. Because it does.