As of today, the United States is only six days away from taking part in its first nationwide election since Donald Trump became president. Across the country, people are waiting anxiously to cast their votes and to see if the country moves in the direction they want it to. But there remains a steadfast group – a majority, even – who won’t cast a ballot at all.
Although turnout in this year’s election is projected to be the highest of any midterm election in decades, those who do not show up will likely still make up more than half of the nation’s eligible voters, and greatly overrepresented among this half of the country are young people. According to the organization Nonprofit Vote, it was estimated that only 21 percent of eligible young Americans aged 18 to 29 voted in 2014, meaning nearly four out of every five young Americans declined to vote.
Understanding that nearly everyone currently enrolled at the College would not have been old enough to vote in 2014, I still want to implore the student body to vote! Besides having a voice in democracy, there are many good reasons to vote, chief among them being the free stickers. But there’s one reason above all that everyone, especially young people, should vote: those in power really, really don’t want you to.
A little over a week ago, Georgia’s gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp made waves when he said that his opponent’s voter turnout operation “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.” While his anti-voting rhetoric is alarming, it’s far from unique. Officials from nearly every state in the country have passed, or have tried to pass, various schemes that warp voting rights to aid their parties or their cronies, including gerrymandering (a term used to describe districts drawn to help one party maintain a majority), voter ID laws and voter roll purges. While these are often characterized as exclusively Republican shenanigans, Democrats do it too: New York has some of the most preposterous voting laws in the nation, and Maryland has become one of the most gerrymandered states.
Oftentimes, these laws are explicitly targeted at college students. New Hampshire recently passed a law, which was later blocked by courts, barring anyone who is not a “permanent resident” of the state from voting, meaning that the state’s college students who do not live there full time would be prevented from voting. It was characterized by Garrett Muscatel, a Dartmouth student currently running for office, as a “poll tax.” Meanwhile, in Michigan, voters need excuses to request absentee ballots unless they’re over 60 – a clear attempt to simultaneously drive up turnout among the elderly while driving down turnout among college students. These examples and more expose a system of power that is terrified, when people, especially young people, actually want to vote.
A common misconception is that voting is a way to reinforce existing power structures, and that the best rebellion is to not vote. The problem of not voting is that it’s like shouting into a void; it might feel satisfying, but nobody can hear you. When nobody votes, it gives elected officials less to worry about from their constituents and more leeway to pander to their donors. The “rebellion” of staying at home accomplishes the exact opposite of what people want it to: it tells the people at the top that they’re not doing anything wrong, and that they might as well keep on doing it. That’s why so many elected officials try so hard to keep voting as complicated and difficult as possible.
So this Nov. 6, prove them wrong. Make them afraid. Vote.
Joey Fox ’21 is from New York, N.Y. His major is undecided.