Millions of Americans will flock to the polls on Tuesday in midterm elections for hundreds of national and state offices. But if history is any indicator, millions more people — over 60 percent of the U.S. population in 2014 — will decline to cast a ballot.
There are plenty of reasons why voter turnout in the United States tends to be lower than most developed nations. Countries like Australia, Germany and India hold elections during the weekend, or make Election Day a national holiday. Countries like Brazil make voting compulsory. While certain U.S. states mandate employers give their staff time to vote on Tuesday, there is no national law that makes that necessary.
This country was originally not designed to be a fully inclusive democracy. When the U.S. Constitution was implemented in 1789, only white, property-owning men over the age of 21 could vote. It took until 1971 to get to the point where all men and women without felony convictions who complete an often arduous registration process can participate in elections.
Those structural bulwarks against true democracy have had a real impact. Two years ago, the Electoral College that decides who the president will be every four years failed, electing a candidate who lost the popular vote for the fifth time in American history.
But the popular vote does not fail. There is no substitute for consensus.
I have my own political views, but I don’t want to waste time on them here. I just want to speak to the students who have the ability to vote, but have already decided to stay away on Election Day. I side with the late writer David Foster Wallace here, who spoke about the illusion of not voting in his book, “McCain’s Promise.”
“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters,” Wallace wrote “In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
So just vote if you have the privilege. Take five minutes to do some research. Vote for a candidate you believe in, vote against a candidate you don’t. Vote for an issue you’re passionate about. Vote for the children who are too young to cast a ballot over concerns that will alter their future. Vote for the elderly and the schedule-stuffed workers who can’t make it to the polling place. Vote for the millions of American citizens living in territories like Puerto Rico who don’t get a voice in national politics. Vote for the thousands of felons in this country who had their suffrage revoked because of their convictions.
But most importantly, vote for you. Stand up and be counted as somebody whose opinions should matter to a politician. Make yourself heard over an army of people trying to shut down the conversation.