On Sunday night, 60 million viewers tuned in to watch a group of undecided voters from around the country ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump their questions in a town hall style debate. After witnessing what has been one of the most polarizing elections in our history, it’s hard to imagine that anyone hasn’t made their decision yet. At this point, most undecided voters are probably so not because they can’t make up their minds, but because they don’t want to. Voters are frustrated. They feel that no matter who wins, nothing will change.
This resonates most strongly among young voters, ages 18-29, who are deeply dissatisfied with both major party nominees, and may choose not to cast their ballots at all. As someone who falls into this age group, I would implore my peers to think twice before sitting out on election day.
You’re probably tired of hearing all the typical arguments: that choosing the lesser of two evils isn’t morally corrupt or that brave Americans fought for universal suffrage so we owe it to them to exercise our voting rights. But rather than give you a long, pathos-ridden manifesto on civic duty and patriotism, I’m going to sum up the most compelling reason for you to vote on Nov. 8: because you can still make a difference. How? Down ballot races.
It seems like every four years, our nation gets so swept up in the pomp and circumstance of presidential elections that we forget that there’s not one branch of government, but three. Contrary to popular belief, the executive branch, which the president presides over, does not hold the majority of power. Sure, the president is endowed with certain exclusive powers like creating executive orders, pardoning felons and meeting with foreign leaders, but these powers typically do not result in any significant policy change. In order to truly make an impact, the president relies on the cooperation of the judicial and legislative branches, both of which (depending on where you live) have elected positions up for grabs on Nov. 8. So if you think that America is doomed no matter who we elect as president, think again. Your pick for senator and/or U.S. representative could greatly limit or expand the president’s lawmaking ability, and help dictate what type of legislation and how much is passed by the next U.S. Congress.
State and local elections shouldn’t be equally neglected by voters because they are, in many ways, more important. These are the officials who are able to truly make a difference in the lives of the electorate. While the president is doing abstract work like negotiating trade agreements or developing budget proposals, your state senators, city council members, school board members, mayors and other local officials are the ones deciding whether or not to fill potholes in your roads, cut funding for your public schools or allow developers to build high-rise apartments in your neighborhood.
Moreover, your vote carries much more weight in local and state elections than you may think. Since New York is an overwhelmingly blue state, odds are that our electoral votes will go to Hillary Clinton no matter who you choose. In down ballot races however, pretty much anything goes, especially here on Long Island, which is known to swing either way. So if you feel that your voice is being stifled by the electoral college, voting down ballot gives you a chance to be heard.
But perhaps the strongest argument I can make for you to vote on Nov. 8 is that by failing to vote, you are responsible for the very thing you complain about: two candidates so unappealing that you’d rather stay home than choose between them. When you don’t vote, you aren’t staging a noble protest or demonstrating your discontent (the establishment doesn’t care if you vote or not); you’re simply silencing yourself. By taking yourself out of the game, you leave the voting to those with the strongest party ties, which widens the ideological gap between the two party candidates. If more average citizens voted then we would end up with more moderate candidates that have a wider appeal. In the words of journalist George John Nathan, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
So on Nov. 8, register your protest by voting.