Why Vote? Because Your Life and Happiness May Depend On It
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Why vote when you are just one person among millions? You're about to learn 13 good reasons. But here's the most basic answer: If you care about your future and want the best things for your friends, your family, other people, and the environment, you should vote in every election.
Most U.S. citizens who are 18 or over have the right to be part of the political decision-making process that impacts all of us. Why would you ignore that enormous privilege? Our right to vote is fundamental to our way of life. It's why many Americans believe that not voting equals not caring. Simply put, it is our responsibility to vote because our freedom to pursue happiness depends on having a functional, representative democracy. The system only works if we participate in it.
When it comes to the well-being of college students and young people, voting is especially important. Your inaction can have long-lasting ramifications that are hard to overcome when you're older. That's why what happens on election day 2020 (November 3) is highly significant. All we really have is the present moment. Yes, every election matters. But no election matters more than the current one. It will always be that way.
So if you're an eligible American citizen, here's why you should vote:
- Your vote is your voice (and you deserve to be heard)
- A lot more is at stake than just who becomes president
- Students and young people have the power to change everything
- Higher education is becoming out of reach for too many Americans
- Health care is still a major problem that your votes can help solve
- Climate change threatens everybody's future (including yours)
- You owe it to America's heroes (past and present)
- You'll be seen as a doer, not a complainer
- Other people are depending on you to do the right thing
- It's your duty to help prevent fascism and tyranny
- You're lucky you even have the right to vote
- Elections can have severe consequences that last for decades
- You probably don't have a good excuse not to vote
1. Your Vote Is Your Voice (And You Deserve to Be Heard)
As individuals, we each have very little control over what happens to other people or the world around us on a daily basis. But that's why casting our ballots is so crucial. Voting is an important right in our democracy because it gives us some collective say in how we want to be governed and who gets to make the big decisions that affect our society. Voting expands your personal sphere of control.
When you vote, you are vocalizing what you need, want, and believe in. You are standing up and demanding to be counted. When you don't vote, you are silencing your heart and your conscience. Not voting is like giving your consent to the status quo (or to those you oppose), essentially saying that you don't care whether anything changes.
By voting, you improve your chances of getting a government that actually represents you, your values, and your interests. Even if the candidates you support don't win, your vote has likely made a difference. After all, you've helped decrease the winners' margins of victory, which gives them less of a mandate to pursue the agendas you oppose.
2. A Lot More Is at Stake Than Just Who Becomes President
The race for president gets the most attention, but plenty of other crucial positions are being contested. After all, the president is not a dictator. The American system of government is built upon a foundation of checks and balances at the local, state, and federal levels. Depending on where you live, in the next election you could also vote for:
- U.S. senators and congressional representatives
- State senators and representatives
- State governors
- City council members
- County judges
So if we truly want our voices to be heard, we can't ignore all the other political offices. The people we elect will either support or oppose key aspects of the president's agenda. That's why you should vote for the candidates whose views most closely align with the policies and values of your presidential choice.
In 2020, House of Representatives elections are being held in every congressional district throughout the U.S. That's because all 435 seats of the House are up for grabs every two years. And these are important positions. Members of the House have the power to initiate revenue bills or even start impeachment proceedings against the president.
Plus, since U.S. senators have six-year terms, about one-third of Senate seats across the country are also up for grabs in each election cycle. Senators have the power to confirm or deny the president's choices for federal judges (including for the Supreme Court) and cabinet officials who run all the departments within the executive branch (including the Department of Education).
Of course, elections aren't just about people. In addition to electing politicians, we vote for the chance to have our voices heard on all kinds of issues that impact our lives and the lives of others. For example, the importance of voting extends to critical issues like:
- College affordability
- Health care
- Climate change and other environmental threats
- Gun control
- Criminal justice
- Workers' rights
- LGBTQ rights
- Reproductive rights
- Foreign policy
Also, remember that your ballot may include important referendums, propositions, or other measures related to major issues at the state or local level. For instance, ballot measures related to legalized marijuana and congressional redistricting could gain prominence in many elections around the country.
But considering how much is at stake, voter turnout remains surprisingly low, even during presidential election years. Eligible voter turnout in 2016 was about 56 percent.1 In the 2018 midterm elections, it was 53.4 percent.2 But shouldn't everyone want to play a role in determining how the country is run?
You can have your say by voting—after learning about the issues and candidates that will be on your ballot. See what you'll be voting on in your region by visiting Ballotpedia.
3. Students and Young People Have the Power to Change Everything
Did you know that 59 percent of all eligible voters in the U.S. are part of the three youngest generations?3 That means, if you include Gen Xers, millennials, and post-millennials, young people have the opportunity to transform America by casting their ballots. Sadly, that opportunity is being squandered, especially when it comes those who are 18 to 24. Voting statistics show that:
- Only 36 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2018 midterm elections. (Even though that might seem low, it does represent a big increase over the 2014 midterms, when this age group had a dismal voter turnout of only 20 percent.)2
- Just 49.1 percent of people in the 18 to 24 age group were even registered to vote in 2018.4
People who are part of America's oldest generations turn out to vote in much higher numbers. And they tend to lean more conservative in their political beliefs than younger people. (While almost 60 percent of registered millennial voters tend to favor Democratic candidates, only 48 percent of baby boomers and 43 percent of people in the Silent Generation do so.)3
If you're young and eligible to vote, you need to do your part—and encourage your peers to do the same.
4. Higher Education Is Becoming Out of Reach for Too Many Americans
We can only protect our democracy if our citizens are educated and have the skills and expertise to pursue happiness as well as meaningful career opportunities. The cost of college keeps rising. And for students with low or moderate incomes and limited financial resources, between 95 and 99 percent of American colleges are unaffordable, even with student loans.5 That makes college affordability one of the biggest reasons to vote if you're a student or plan to be one.
Policymakers and political leaders at the state and federal levels have the power to make college more accessible and affordable for all Americans. But they won't change things unless you make your voice heard, primarily by voting for politicians who truly support this cause. A bigger youth vote could encourage politicians to pursue initiatives such as:
- Greater funding for public colleges and universities
- Incentives for private schools to lower their prices for non-wealthy students
- Broader access to Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid
- Student loan reforms
- Programs for student debt forgiveness
Some politicians even believe in the idea of free college. But such a lofty idea will never come to fruition unless people like you vote for those who pledge to make it happen.
5. Health Care Is Still a Major Problem That Your Votes Can Help Solve
Your health may not be top of mind when you're young, but it should be one of the top reasons you vote. After all, you never know when injury or illness might strike. You also probably care about the health of older people in your life. And your future health may be impacted by how people vote on this issue today.
Although the Affordable Care Act has resulted in more Americans having health insurance, its future is in doubt. And the cost of insurance and drug prescriptions continues to rise for many people. In fact, the U.S. has some of the highest health care costs in the world. So a lot of Americans still can't afford to see a doctor or get treated for illness. This problem needs to be solved.
Many people believe that the best solution is to adopt a universal, single-payer health care system such as Medicare for All. But whether you support that kind of initiative or believe a different solution exists, you may never see the future you want unless you vote for those who want the same thing.
We all get older. And nobody should die because they can't afford the health care they need.
6. Climate Change Threatens Everybody's Future (Including Yours)
The younger you are, the more likely it is that climate change will directly impact you during your lifetime. Actually, there's a strong chance it already has. In fact, climate change is arguably the greatest threat facing humanity. We're already at crisis levels: Stronger hurricanes, longer wildfire seasons, unexpected floods, severe heat waves, extended droughts, inundated coastal cities, and other devastating effects of global warming are becoming the norm. These facts are supported by science.
That's why we should vote for politicians who believe in science and want to act urgently to avoid the worst-case scenarios. (Some scientists believe that human-caused climate change could lead to the extinction of our species.)
Need more convincing? Read about one of the most alarming reports ever put out by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Then, vote for political leaders who make battling climate change a top priority and want to cooperate with the rest of the world to solve this problem.
Be kind to your future self. Do what has to be done.
7. You Owe It to America's Heroes (Past and Present)
Countless Americans have sacrificed their lives or suffered extreme hardship in order to secure your right to vote. That includes military service members, women suffragettes, minority groups, and many others at home and abroad who have fought for liberty and civil rights. When you vote, you honor their sacrifices.
We must never take our voting rights for granted. They can only be preserved by casting our ballots in every election and guarding against politicians who would seek to suppress the votes of people they don't want to represent.
8. You'll Be Seen as a Doer, Not a Complainer
Some people become so cynical about the state of the world and American politics that they never vote. They think, "Why should people vote when everything is so messed up? What's in it for me?" It's a self-defeating attitude that feeds upon itself and does nothing but perpetuate more of the "mess" they complain about. Here's the deal: You can either be a proactive agent of positive change or a passive victim of your own boring pessimism.
Yes, change can be slow. Lasting change usually is. You may have to vote in several elections before the things you want start coming to fruition. It takes time for progress to happen, for enough people to see a certain vision and get on board with it. But if you never vote for people who support that vision, it's hard to believe you actually care about it.
There is simply no integrity in complaining about something if you don't make the effort to change it. So try voting, even if you don't feel like it. You might just discover that you feel more positive about the future when you participate with other U.S. citizens to make things better.
9. Other People Are Depending On You to Do the Right Thing
Your votes can help stop injustice. They can also help lift others up or keep them out of harm's way. After all, lots of Americans are still underrepresented in our democracy. And this nation works best when we look out for each other. Voting gives you the opportunity to amplify the voices of those who desperately want and need to be heard.
Plus, voting for the interests of those who are marginalized or need a helping hand can be more inspiring than simply voting for your own narrow interests.
10. It's Your Duty to Help Prevent Fascism and Tyranny
As an American citizen, you're free to believe what you want. But if you wish to maintain that freedom, you must help defend the country from those who would replace our democracy with an oppressive authoritarian government in which citizens no longer have a voice. We cannot afford to take our liberties for granted.
Yet, the United States consistently has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the developed world. For example, based on the 2016 election numbers, out of 32 developed countries, the U.S. ranks just 26th for voter turnout.1 And voter turnout is usually even lower for midterm elections.
That doesn't bode well for the future of our democracy. When citizens don't vote, it makes it easier for leaders with authoritarian tendencies to gain power. After all, lack of participation in the voting process demonstrates cynicism, ignorance, or disinterest—things that aspiring tyrants can exploit for their purposes. Americans who don't participate in our democracy are easier to control and manipulate.
Over time, low voter turnout erodes our democracy, leaving us with a government that doesn't represent us. We really are in danger of losing the rights and freedoms we take for granted. That's why you always must vote, regardless of the election date. Voting is a minor inconvenience compared to the full-on oppression of tyranny.
Your vote is your protection.
11. You're Lucky You Even Have the Right to Vote
Never forget that countless people around the world don't have your privilege. They would die to win the same right to vote you have. They want the same chance to live with dignity, to have their voices heard. Instead, they are often powerless to change things unless they take up arms in violent revolt.
Don't dishonor the hopes, dreams, and noble struggles of the oppressed by ignoring your basic rights. Your votes will help keep the beacon of democracy shining, allowing other nations to eventually find their way out of the darkness.
12. Elections Can Have Severe Consequences That Last for Decades
Why is it important to vote in every election? Because you can't count on future elections to correct the bad things that may result from the current one. And you certainly can't count on other people voting the way you expect or want them to.
Increasingly, for any election, polls are unreliable indicators of the final outcome. Polls don't always accurately predict how people will vote. So you can't leave things to chance or stay home believing that your candidates or issues already have enough support.
The results of just one election can produce long-lasting consequences that can't be reversed for a generation or longer. Lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court are just one example. Power begets power.
Sometimes, voting for the lesser of two evils is the most important thing you can do. It's better than giving the candidates you most oppose an easier path to victory or a greater mandate if they win.
13. You Probably Don't Have a Good Excuse Not to Vote
You may still think, "Why should I vote when I have perfectly good reasons not to? I have the right to not participate." It's true: Not voting is certainly your right. But unless you are physically or mentally incapable of casting a ballot, your reasons may not stand up to scrutiny, especially in light of everything already mentioned.
Given what you learned above, can you think of any valid excuse for not voting? If you're a college student, you may have some legitimate barriers. But even if you can't overcome them in time for the current election, you may not have a valid excuse for missing the next one. Yes, many students in the U.S. experience challenges such as:
- Not knowing about voter registration deadlines, rules, or how to get started
- Confusion about whether to vote in their home or school communities
- Not having the proper kind of ID to meet voting requirements
- Lacking reliable or timely transportation to their polling stations
Some states have even passed or proposed laws that make it more difficult for college students to vote. (Such laws are examples of what happens when the people in power actively work to silence the voices of those who are most likely to disagree with their agendas.) That makes it even more important to do everything in your power to cast your ballot.
Even if you live in a different country, you can still vote. American citizens who qualify under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) have the right to submit absentee ballots by mail. Fully electronic online voting is not yet an option. However, many states allow absentee voters to submit their ballots by email, fax, or Web portal under certain conditions.
Learn How and Where to Register to Vote Right Now
Campus Vote Project makes it easy to learn about the voter registration process and requirements for your location. Simply select your state in order to find answers to your questions. You can also visit Vote.gov to find out how and where to register. You may even be able to complete your registration online.
But act quickly! Register to vote as soon as possible. In some states, you can register on the day of the election. But in many others, you must register by a certain deadline in order to vote in the upcoming election. Also, remember that you can only be registered to vote in one location.
After you register, make sure you are informed and prepared to cast your ballot. Learn about the candidates and issues in your region by visiting Ballotpedia. Gather the necessary ID. Then, when it comes time to mark your ballot, make sure you follow the instructions carefully. Don't rush, and don't assume anything. You spoil your ballot by not adhering to the printed directions. For example, your vote may be deemed invalid if you do things like:
- Mark your choices in a different way than what the instructions say
- Tear or otherwise physically deface your ballot in a way that isn't permitted
- Mark more than one choice for a single ballot measure or set of candidates
- Write someone's name on the ballot when no space is provided for a write-in option
If you make a mistake while marking your ballot, request a new one. Your old one will be canceled and won't be counted.
Be a Citizen We Can All Be Proud Of
For the health of our democracy and your own well-being, we need you to vote; 2020 and 2022 are only the beginning. Stay informed, hold your elected officials accountable, and vote in as many future elections as you're physically and mentally able to.
And don't forget about the power of education. The more you know (and the more you're able to do), the better off you, your community, and our nation will be. America is strongest when people like you have the skills to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them.
1 Pew Research Center, "U.S. trails most developed countries in voter turnout," website last visited on January 27, 2020.
2 United States Census Bureau, "Voter Turnout Rates Among All Voting Age and Major Racial and Ethnic Groups Were Higher Than in 2014," website last visited on January 27, 2020.
3 Pew Research Center, "Younger generations make up a majority of the electorate, but may not be a majority of voters this November," website last visited on January 27, 2020.
4 United States Census Bureau, "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2018," website last visited on January 27, 2020.
5 Institute for Higher Education Policy, Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans, website last visited on January 27, 2020.