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Observer Editorial: See you at the polls

| Friday, September 30, 2016

Monday marked the first installment in a series of three debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in preparation for the upcoming presidential election. More than 1,500 students attended a debate watch on South Quad, and many more tuned in to watch the candidates’ performances independently. But while interest in Monday’s debate is evidence of a commendable effort by students to engage with the political issues in contention during this election cycle, students also need to take the necessary next step in shouldering their civic responsibility and register to vote.

No matter what your political views are, one thing can be agreed upon: This election is crucial. It marks a turning point in American history. Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump — many people never thought a United States presidential election would feature two candidates who inspire such a spectrum of reactions.

Some people are disheartened by both Clinton and Trump, causing them to proclaim, “I’m not voting.” They think by not voting, they are proving a point. In reality, they are allowing America’s political process to stagnate and its political problems to compound.

If you are unhappy with our government, vote. Exercise your Constitutional right to make a change; that is the only way things will move forward. By not voting, you are enabling complacency to triumph.

Registering to vote has never been easier. Deadlines are fast approaching, and National Voter Registration Day was Tuesday. If you are unsure whether you are registered, just a handful of seconds and a few clicks of a mouse will tell you your registration status. If it turns out you are not registered, thanks to online registration, it takes an average of just 1 minute and 34 seconds of your time to remedy that. NDVotes has even started an inter-hall competition as an incentive: The dorm with the highest percentage of TurboVote registrations wins a yet-to-be-determined prize. All you need to do is register at TurboVote.org.

Vote, abstain or leave the presidential ballot blank — it’s up to you how you choose to exercise your political responsibility to show up to the polls. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting about all of the other governmental offices in which you have a say. While the presidential election is the most talked about and visible of the elections, non-presidential elections are arguably more influential in day-to-day government.

The Constitutional powers held by members of the House of Representatives and Senate mean legislators create the backbone for new bills and laws. If you doubt the importance of voting for your senators and representatives, remember that government shutdowns, federal taxes and, as we have seen in recent months, Supreme Court appointments all require action from the legislative branch. How much power our future president holds depends in part on his or her support (or opposition) in Congress.

Closer to home, the local elections are the ones that arguably will have the biggest impact on everyday life. State legislators, county officers and municipal and other local officials guide the direction of state-, county- and city-wide policies that often end up having an impact at the federal level. Your vote likely carries more weight in municipal- and state-level races than it does at the presidential level, and the chance of finding at least one tight race or important public issue — like a non-partisan referendum to fund schools — is high, even in the most uncompetitive of areas. Do your research up and down the ballot; the future of your own community is in your hands.

To those who think their vote does not matter, we urge you to recall the 2008 election. The youth vote radically altered the course of this country by becoming the final push that elected Barack Obama to his first of two terms as president, and it looks as though the youth vote will be pivotal yet again. Clinton and Trump are close in the polls, with the numbers changing every day. Political leaders often speak of the power of the youth vote, but the fact remains that voting rates among young people still lag behind older generations.

Last year’s Editorial Board wrote about the topic of voter registration as well, and the same facts still ring true: According to statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, only 19.9 percent of voters ages 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.

Look at this summer’s European Union referendum in Britain as an example: It is thought that only 36 percent of the people ages 18-24 turned out to vote, which constituted about half the number of those aged 55-64 and just over a third of those 65 and older. Young people overwhelmingly voted against Britain leaving the EU, but the low youth turnout wasn’t enough to overcome the majority vote in favor of leaving.

Do your duty. Cast your vote. So many people in this world don’t have the right to vote, and one of the things that makes America what it is today is our ability to participate in a democracy. Don’t be so quick to throw all of that away.

And in order to vote Nov. 8, it takes being prepared as early as a month in advance. Different states have different deadlines, so it’s important to educate yourself now to keep from getting left behind. For most students, being away from home necessitates a different experience — don’t be too late requesting, or mailing back, your absentee ballot.

It is our future we choose to change or choose to ignore. The ideas and policies of our president, as well as those of our local and state elected officials, will be in place when we graduate, when we enter the workforce, when we raise and care for our families.
Let’s educate ourselves. Read up. Look for accurate news from multiple sources. Discuss and contend with our peers. Whether you vote for one of the candidates on the ballot, write someone in or abstain, we hope to see you at the polls. Voting in November starts with action today.

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