Voting has always been important to me, ever since my mom first took me to the polls with her when I was a child. I remember her telling me how important it was and explaining that to me As a citizen of the United States, it was her job to vote. Someday, she said, it would be my job, too. As I grew older, I started to consider voting an obligation before anything else. I’ve always felt like I owe it to myself and my country to do my part to elect politicians who will act in the best interest of its citizens, so I try to stay as educated as possible and do my best to engage with as many diverse opinions as I can. I want to be educated, I want to contribute, and I want to make a difference.
However, I know that my view of political action is not shared by everyone. I’ve always known people who choose to “stay out of politics,” avoid political discussions and choose to remain impartial on key issues. I understand, on some level, avoiding contentious political discussions to evade conflict, but refusing to vote? That’s something I will always struggle to empathize with. Still, a lot of people that I know are either unenthusiastic about voting, haven’t registered to vote, or don’t plan on showing up to the polls.
I’ve held out hope that, as time goes on, these people will realize that voter registration deadlines are approaching. Part of me remains optimistic that some of them will change their minds at the last minute and register to vote before time runs out and they lose their chance. As the election creeps closer, however, I’ve found myself growing less optimistic and more concerned with these peoples’ lack of drive to participate.
Voting is a privilege that so few people have, and it’s arguably the most impactful thing you can do as a citizen. Why, then, do some college students refuse to vote? I talked to a few students in an effort to better understand the thought process of non-voters.
The main anxiety of many of these students was that their votes wouldn’t count. “Mostly, it’s the electoral college,” said one student, referencing the fact that it’s the electoral college vote, not the popular vote, that decides the presidency. “I feel like the popular vote doesn’t mean anything, so why even try? It’s not like my vote is actually counted towards the election.” This was a sentiment shared by others, too. “I live in a blue state,” said another student, “The electoral college [delegate] is gonna vote blue, no matter who I put on the ballot. Why bother?”
On a personal note, I am partially empathetic to these concerns. It has long been a source of frustration for me that the United States isn’t a direct democracy. I believe that the electoral college belongs to an antiquated system of voting that is contrary to the interests of the majority of voting Americans, an idea that I look forward to exploring further in a future article. However, it’s also inaccurate to say that the popular vote “doesn’t matter.”
To some extent, the popular vote actually does help decide the presidency through the electoral college. There is some interplay between the votes cast by individuals and the votes cast by electors. In fact, most states require electors to pledge to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state. That is to say, if you want your state’s electors to pledge to vote for your preferred candidate, the best thing you can do to ensure that that happens is to get out and cast your vote on election day.
Another contributing factor for some students was stress. “While we like being able to have a say in the election, it is also very intimidating,” said one student, “that amount of pressure might dissuade young people.” Voting is a huge responsibility, and with stakes as high as these, it’s easy to be nervous at the polls. For some, this stress makes inaction appealing. “It’s far easier to just watch instead of acting,” added another student.
I completely understand the urge to avoid things that stress you out. I’ve always been a huge procrastinator, and I’m a big fan of ignoring my problems in the hopes that they will magically disappear on their own. Unfortunately, this is not a realistic approach, especially where politics is concerned. While it’s understandable to be stressed, it’s completely inadvisable to avoid the polls because of your anxieties. The fact is, neglecting to vote because it stresses you out will only hurt you in the long run. By forfeiting your contribution to the national consensus, you increase the chances that the election results will favor someone who acts against your interests.
Besides stress, finding the time to vote was another significant concern for some students. “I’m too busy,” one student said, “I’m working, like, thirty hours a week, I’m going to school, and I’m trying to do all these online extracurriculars. I barely have time to sleep, much less look up how to register to vote and take a trip to the polls. It makes me feel guilty, but I’m just overwhelmed and I feel like I don’t have the time.”
As someone who works a salary job alongside school and extracurriculars, I completely understand the difficulties inherent in keeping a balanced life with enough time to focus on things like voting. I’m empathetic to the struggle of finding time to vote, and I understand that it’s never as simple as setting aside an hour or two to drop by the polls. It’s important to also factor in the time it takes to get there, to wait in line, to cast your ballot, and to leave. On top of that, there’s the issue of being politically aware enough to even know who you want to vote for. That alone often takes hours of studying, watching debates, and reading over mission statements and campaign websites. It’s daunting. Overwhelming, even. Still, it’s necessary.
Most students, I think, understand exactly how vital voting is to a functioning democracy, even in the face of certain challenges. Overall, most students’ hang-ups about voting revolved around specific difficulties that they faced, either in the form of stress or time management. It’s important to remember that all of the stressors that might prevent you from voting are manageable; the obstacles that stand in your way are avoidable. It’s challenging, but it’s not impossible. Mark the date in your calendar and try your best to plan around it. It’s okay to call in a rain check on a club meeting, or even to skip a study session or two. Request time off of work, ask for extensions on projects and homework, explain your situation to your professors. Even setting aside ten minutes a day to catch up on politics is better than nothing.
As a citizen of the United States, it’s your responsibility to make it to the polls this November. Putting in the effort may seem daunting, but it’s worth it. For more information about voting in Massachusetts, visit https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/.