With nothing more than a couple universities, massive fields of corn and the Iowa State Fair, Iowa should be #1 on a list of the most boring states to live in. I would know, as I’ve spent the last 18 years of my life there. Growing up, I desperately begged my parents to let us move somewhere like California, where there is no shortage of excitement and bustling city life. The barren, flat environment of Iowa always seemed like a prison of corn, invisible to everyone and largely irrelevant. Well, irrelevant until the election rolls around every 4 years.
With the election cycle often comes an influx of pop-up campaign offices and candidates hoping to win over the population of Iowa. This past year, campaigns for multiple candidates appeared overnight in my town for Buttigieg, Warren and Booker. They relentlessly knocked doors, camped out at coffee shops and hosted events to draw in potential voters. It was a time of extreme tension and excitement, but it all fizzled for me once I realized that I couldn’t even participate in the caucuses.
The majority of citizens recognize the importance of voting both in the primaries and, more importantly, in the general election. It gives the people the perceived power of deciding what the government will look like for the next 4 years, fills voters with a sense of patriotism and has been ingrained in many people’s heads as a part of their civic duty. Some have argued that their vote essentially does not matter in a state that’s always blue or red, but especially for the primaries, everyone’s vote contributes to choosing the leader of the country. Especially in this time of high political tensions, most Iowans are highly cognizant of the weight each vote carries.
Most people would agree that voting is both an essential feature of democracy as well as a simple way for an individual’s voice to be heard. However, the system is set up in a way that often discourages, rather than encourages, participation. Even as far back as 1787, when the Founding Fathers were in the process of creating a new system of government, they debated extensively on who should vote and how many buffers should exist between the common man’s ballot and the highest level of government.
Despite the enfranchisement of women and other historically marginalized groups, exclusivity and barriers continue to exist in our electoral system. I experienced this exclusivity firsthand when I was unable to participate in the Iowa caucuses. This past year, I briefly volunteered on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, was involved in my school’s club for Democrats and joined EphVotes; I would consider myself relatively politically active. Even though my will was there, it was simply inaccessible for me to participate. Additionally, many of my friends who did show up to the caucuses ended up leaving in the middle, not because they didn’t care, but rather because of situational factors, such as having too much homework or other prior commitments.
In my social psychology class the other day, my professor talked extensively about the surprising power a situation can have on an individual. An example he used was how Google’s offices drastically decreased employees’ M&M consumption simply by making them less accessible, storing them in an opaque container with a lid rather than in a candy bowl out in the open. Some schools steer students towards healthier eating just by putting the salad station before the burgers and fries, reducing the physical amount of space on the plate onto which students can load up greasy meat. The situation is often more powerful than the mind.
This is why I propose a change in the system, specifically the accessibility of exercising one’s right to vote. Environmental shifts are often much more effective in changing human behavior than shifts in mindset. We must aim to make voting so easy a task that it would be impossible to abstain rather than preach to everyone to vote just because they should. Having a national holiday with a day off of work for election day, making the process as simple as possible, increasing the amount of voting locations and decreasing wait times at the ballot box would create a system so basic and self-explanatory that no one would have the excuse of “it was just too complicated” or “I didn’t have time to.”
The right to vote is one that should not be taken for granted. Just about 200 years ago, white, property-owning men were the ones with all the say in government. Countless individuals and interest groups have fought for universal suffrage, enduring ridicule and sometimes violence. Those who paved the way to allow women and people of color to vote in this country left behind a legacy of advancing equality in terms of enfranchisement. To vote is to acknowledge the struggles of those before us and to thank them for fighting relentlessly for equality.
In the upcoming election, the potential for massive change rests with young people. In the past, young voters were the least likely age demographic to show up to vote. This can change in 2020. If young people go to the polls and submit absentee ballots for both the primaries and the general election, we have the power to steer the country in any direction. With Super Tuesday coming up, spend a couple minutes getting educated on the candidates, fill out a ballot and use your voice to change the trajectory of the country.
Grace Kim ’23 is from Ames, Iowa.