Please Vote

November 1, 2018

I remember the first time I voted. It was the presidential election of 1992. I was 19 years old, and I couldn’t wait to use my “voice.” It was still dark on that chilly November morning when I got to the old church that doubled as a polling station. There was a long line waiting to get in. I felt nervous, as I was unsure of what to do or how things would work. I carefully read and marked my ballot, being sure not to make a mistake. When I gently pushed it through the thin slit of the ballot box, I was genuinely worried it might somehow become lost. It meant a great deal to me. I remember the feeling of accomplishment and pride as I walked out wearing my “I Voted” sticker. My head was held high, as if I had made some tiny difference. I suppose I was young and naive in some ways.

I’ve changed a lot over the 26 years since that morning. I went to college, started a career, got married and had a family, went back to school, and am preparing to begin a new career. My philosophy on life has changed greatly. I’m much busier. I’m probably more cynical, and definitely more jaded. My back and knees often hurt, I’m usually tired, and I’m certainly not so eager to jump out of bed on dark and chilly mornings (or really any mornings) to go cast my ballot. But I do.

I vote — at every level, every time I can — because it is an incredible freedom, one that many of us take for granted. We definitely have problems with our government and politics. Our voting system is flawed in many ways. I have no doubt that fraudulent actions take place — originating from both sides of the aisle — but we must vote, regardless. It is a special privilege.

Look around the world at the many countries where elections are either a wishful dream, a distant memory, or a complete scam. Think about the people who live in countries where voting is so dangerous that they literally risk their lives to vote. For example, in a recent Afghanistan election, the Taliban sent out letters vowing to kill or cut off the fingers of those who vote. Yet 7 million Afghans ventured out to the polls.

According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans said they thought high voter turnout in presidential elections was important. In my opinion, that already seems like a low number, yet less than just 56% of us actually voted in the 2016 election. That ranks the U.S. 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic countries, in terms of voter turnout.

So what is our problem? Why is voting not a priority? Maybe we take it for granted because it has always been a right for everyone born in the last 99 years. Americans today haven’t lived through times when voting and elections weren’t a given. Historically speaking, however, it wasn’t that long ago that the opinions of blacks and women didn’t matter.

Are we too tired from binge watching Netflix the night before? Do the long morning lines at the McDonald’s or Starbucks drive-thru delay us so much that we don’t have time? Do we have to rush home after work to get the kids to soccer practice? Is it just not worth the hassle? Do we have so many obligations that we simply can’t be bothered? Maybe we don’t really care who governs our country — although social media, the news media, and conversations in coffee shops, elevators, and at dinner tables across our nation would indicate I’m wrong. (By the way, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.)

Maybe many of us actually believe voting is legitimately too hard. A large number of Americans don’t have convenient polling places, transportation, or other resources, any or all of which can make voting very difficult. Yet there are people in far less developed countries who will walk for miles — and sometimes days — just to cast one ballot.

When I vote today, I still feel a sense of nervous-excitement. It’s corny, I know. I still carefully read and mark my ballot. When I gently push it into the electronic scanner, I always worry that something will go wrong. It still means a lot to me, maybe more than ever. After voting, I place my “I Voted” sticker on my chest, and walk out with my head held high.

Maybe I’m still a little naive, but I do think voting — and, similarly, not voting — can make an impact. If you’re paying attention, it’s very obvious. If you’re not paying attention, I beg that you start. We have the ability to vote people in, and — perhaps more importantly — vote people out. I urge you to get out and vote every chance you get. Do it for your country, your state, your city, and your community. Most of all, though, do it do you. Use your voice. Make a tiny difference. You won’t regret it.

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