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Observer Editorial: Across campus and country, your vote counts

| Friday, February 5, 2016

The nation turned its political attention to Iowa on Monday night as more than eight months of campaigning, debates and media frenzy yielded to the actual act of voting. The Iowa caucuses were only the beginning of the next chapter of the already historic and exciting 2016 presidential campaign, and the rest will be written by those who show up to vote.

After results that showed promise for candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and discouraging results that forced four candidates to end their presidential bids, the remaining candidates move on to New Hampshire, where Tuesday’s primary will help further set the direction of the race moving forward. Regardless of where the election goes from here, though, one thing is certain: It will be exciting. As college students, we have only been able to vote in one presidential election so far, and the sometimes circus-like environment of the 2016 campaign seems to have energized Americans of all ages.

And while it is good to have plenty of energy going into election season, it is important to capitalize on that energy and actually participate in both local and national elections. Political pundits often speak of “the youth vote” and its potential power, but the fact remains that young people and college students vote at significantly lower rates than older age groups. According to statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, only 19.9 percent of voters age 18-29 voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded in a federal election. In the 2012 presidential election, the youth voter turnout rate was 45 percent, a six-point decrease from the 2008 election and 15 points lower than any other age group in 2012.

Here on campus, though, the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy created the “NDVotes ‘16” initiative in order to promote democratic participation for all students. This initiative makes it easier for students to keep up with the election process by providing means to acquire absentee ballots, supporting voter registration and sending reminders to vote. Last semester, NDVotes wrote a Letter to the Editor identifying its goal as making “political participation both exciting and accessible to all students — regardless of their religious affiliation, academic interests or personal background.” Other campus political clubs, including College Democrats and College Republicans, also offer bountiful opportunities to participate in the 2016 presidential campaign on a number of levels.

Closer to home than the national elections that dominate the news, voting in the upcoming student government elections allows us as students to choose who will work behind the scenes to make changes that impact our campus life. Notre Dame votes for student government president and vice president Wednesday, and Saint Mary’s votes for student body president and vice president Feb. 25. Student Government may sometimes feel distant from the student body, but we as students are ultimately the ones able to take control and help set the direction of the University and the College. Short-term experiments such as Trayless Thursdays and long-term strategies such as sexual assault prevention programs demonstrate how student leadership can direct resources to pinpoint and focus on specific issues on our campuses.

Student Government is one of only a few student organizations with the power to influence every facet of student life. It is crucial we participate in this election as informed voters. Visit the candidates’ websites, learn about their platforms, ask how they will shape your Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s experience the following year and attend Monday night’s debate in the LaFortune basement. Voter participation should extend well beyond checking a box.

Educating yourself is a responsibility that extends beyond college too. Follow candidates in your home state and participate in local elections. Seek out thorough and accurate news that cuts through the horse race of the national election. Effecting change on any level — on a college campus or across an entire country — is a slow and painstaking process, but it begins with your vote. Voting participation should not be a one-time commitment but a regular and established part of your civic life.

The impact of a single vote can drive change at any level, from student government elections to primaries to presidential ballots. So, this election season, be informed, be active and above all, go vote.

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