I know what you’re thinking: You think this op-ed is going to be another preachy sermon about “doing your civic duty” and “being an active citizen.” Well, I’m not going to preach to you. I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s your duty to vote. I’ll spare you the platitudes. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing that stuff, too. Instead, I’m going to try to convince you that voting is important. That you should want to weigh in on politics because elections matter. That if more young people (like you!) voted, we would actually have politicians who would listen to us. And most of all, that if you care about people, care about making people’s lives better, you should care about politics.
Politics might not seem like it matters. It seems distant. It seems boring. It seems petty. It seems like there’s no difference among the politicians. But there is a difference. And it turns out that the difference is really important. Look, I don’t want to come off as a partisan guy. I’m not going to try to tell you who to vote for or who to vote against. I’m not even going to try to describe policies because if I did, it might seem like I was framing them in a particular way. But no matter which side you’re on, you can agree that the candidates have major disagreements on policies that will affect millions and millions of Americans. You’re going to have to live with that government every single day for four years. I’m asking you for five minutes, tops. You think it’s not important?
Ok, I know what you’re thinking again: “People always tell me voting matters, but then the politicians go to Washington, and it’s always young people who get screwed, no matter which party we pick!” And you know what? I agree! But do you know why it’s always young people who are getting screwed by politicians while the old folks get a sweeter and sweeter deal? It’s simple, really. The reason is that old people vote. Makes perfect sense, right? Politicians want to get reelected, so they listen to the people who vote. Seriously, talk to a political scientist. We’ve got a great department here at the College. If you’re choosing not to vote, you can’t complain about politicians. You’re saying to the system, “Go ahead and mortgage my future.” If you cared, you’d vote.
Still not convinced that voting is worth your time? Here’s my best argument: All your friends are doing it. You might be thinking that it’s ok not to vote because most young people don’t do it. Not so fast. The vast majority of Williams students will register and vote this year, many of them here in Williamstown. Groups have been tabling in Paresky with paper forms that take two minutes to fill out. (Full disclosure: I am the President of the Williams College Democrats, one of the groups that has been involved in the tabling.) They’ll take care of the rest. Plus, you can always just go straight to the Williamstown Town Hall to register.
Want to vote absentee? Ok, but you’ll actually have to mail the forms yourself to vote. If you still haven’t mailed your forms as you’re reading this, you’re probably not going to get around to it anyway. Why not make things easier on yourself by registering in Williamstown? Even if you’re already registered at home, switching is as easy as – you guessed it – filling out a form. Then you can forget about the mail. Your vote won’t matter in Massachusetts, though, right? Wrong! We’ve got a close U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts that could determine which party has control of the upper chamber of Congress as well as some cool ballot questions. Want to weigh in on whether medicinal marijuana should be legal or whether patients should have the right to physician assisted suicide? Vote in Williamstown! You spend most of your time for four years here anyway. This is your primary community and your home. What better way to feel connected than to vote alongside residents of Williamstown this November? Remember that switching back home will involve taking two minutes of your time to – yep – fill out a form and that you can easily switch back for any election after this one, no matter how soon.
I know some of you who have read this far know that what I’m saying is true and still won’t vote. You’ll walk by the tables in Paresky, and you’ll think, “I should fill out the registration form at some point,” but then you won’t do it. You’ll register and then be “too busy” on Election Day to make it to the polls. And you know what? All those of us who care about voting can do is shrug. We’re making it easier than ever to vote, but at some point, people like you need to step up and just do it.
I can see that you, the rational Williams student, might still need a nudge in the right direction. So here’s a fun fact: Whether you vote in a given election is a matter of the public record. Want your future employer to think that you are an actively engaged citizen? The registration deadline is Oct. 17 and Election Day is Nov. 6. Happy voting!
Brian McGrail is a history and political economics double major from Arlington, Va. He lives in Morgan.