Our Primary Duty: Why Students Should Vote

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Live or What Party You Support, Just Make Your Voice Heard Nov. 2


Published: October 20, 2010

With the 2010 election just weeks away, airwaves, newspapers and street corners are sure to be packed with advertisements reminding you of who to support. For a lot of us  who are occupied with a different kind of midterm, that begs a more fundamental question. As students with incredibly demanding academic schedules, coupled with part-time jobs, internships and campus activities, do we really have the time or the inclination to make informed participation a priority, especially in a year when the Presidency isn’t at stake? There just isn’t time to spend an hour a day watching the news when a lot of us sleep only five or six hours a night as it is—and besides, nothing’s really at stake if you’re sure who’s going to win. The California congresswoman who represents my hometown, for example, lives in a district where she would essentially have to commit a felony to lose re-election. So why is it important that I know what’s going on—why should I vote?

Courtesy of Politico

Here’s why. In California, as in New York, Representative Linda Sanchez is not the only one on the ballot—there’s also a close race for the U.S. Senate and one for the California governorship. Additionally, there’s a measure to decriminalize, legalize, and tax marijuana for recreational use. And there’s one to repeal “The Global Warming Solutions Act,” the first state law to comprehensively address climate change in our nation’s history. In New York, elections will similarly fill two Senate seats, the governorship and decide whether or not to legalize casino gambling.

Moreover, these are truly special—and not just because the Republican candidate for governor of New York thinks women should bear their rapists’ children. No, 2010 is special because of the once-per-decade census. Our Constitution requires the government to count everybody once every 10 years to determine how many Congressional representatives and electoral votes each state gets. But because that process has become so politicized, who is elected as Governor will have a huge impact on the political landscape of the entire state for a whole decade. So a Democratic governor, for example, might help draw a map that gives Democrats more safe seats in Congress and more electoral votes for the entire decade. And because a lot of people don’t vote in midterm elections, each vote matters much more—giving people who do show up more of a voice.

And yet, all of that pales in comparison to the broader principle at stake because as American citizens, there’s a lot we take for granted. President Lincoln told the world after the Battle of Gettysburg that there was nothing he could say to honor the warriors who fought and died that day carrying our flag. He said that it was our job as survivors and descendents not to try and eulogize them, but instead to continually pursue a more perfect Union, living with purpose to ensure that those soldiers did not die in vain. We can’t do any of that if we don’t show up. American citizenship gives us a lot, and all it asks in return is that once in a while we take some time to fill out a ballot.

If you don’t have time to devour the Wall Street Journal each day, that’s fine. Do what I do: have the news on in the background while you’re cooking or doing pushups—you’ll be surprised how much you pick up. For those with smartphones, download the CNN or Reuters app and read it while you’re on the go. Subscribe to any number of Twitter feeds for important updates, and visit Politico or the New York Times when you have a few extra minutes at your computer. Check your registration status at www.canivote.org, and if you haven’t registered yet, head to www.rockthevote.org for more information.

This won’t be hard, and there really is a lot at stake. No matter who you vote for, make sure you vote.