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‘The ballot is stronger than the bullet’

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

And coming from Abraham Lincoln, that must really mean something.

All jokes aside, ballots stitch our democracy together. Without them, the power of leaders would go unchecked, public interests would be sacrificed for personal gain and the government of the people, by the people, for the people would in fact perish from the Earth. You would expect such a powerful tool to have widespread adoption.

Instead, as many as 1 in 4 eligible voters are not registered. How can this be?

This is not a problem inherent in democracy, but in the United States. Most nations automatically register eligible individuals. In the U.S., however, 18 year-olds are responsible for registering themselves. Further, address, name or party affiliation changes all require registration updates, without which you can be barred from voting. This process has been simplified by the increasing availability of online registration, but over 20% of states don’t provide this option. Many states also require registration in advance of election day, sometimes up to 30 days. And if you’re a college student? Add extra time to mail your registration, be approved, mail in your request for an absentee ballot, be approved and send an absentee ballot, fill it out and mail it back before Nov. 8. Get the picture?

One organization is working to change the narrative. National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan movement that coordinates a push for voter registration every September. They find community partners such as libraries, companies and schools who are willing to provide places for people to register. They create content for social media and recruit influencers to explain the registration process on various platforms. News blasts on both local and national levels draw awareness to the campaign. And over 20,000 volunteers help run registration drives and initiatives. This year, the nationwide effort was led by Secretaries of State Michael Adams (R-KY) and Steve Simon (D-MN) with the collaboration of numerous organizations. One week ago, Sept. 20, was National Voter Registration Day this year. Since its inception in 2012, 4.7 million voters have registered on this holiday alone. 

Even if you missed last week’s holiday, there is still time to avoid being the 1 in 4 people unable to participate in democracy. There are four main (and easier than you think!) steps to voting in college.

  1. Register!

Vote.org does a great job of aggregating the voting laws of every state in one location. They connect you to online registration for your state or the proper form to be mailed in. Do not delay this step! The rest of the steps require your registration to be complete (and some states have early registration deadlines).

  1. Request an absentee ballot!

Vote.org can once again connect you to the resources to do this. Some states allow you to do this online, while others require a paper request to be mailed in. Even though election day is in November, you need to start the process now, lest your ballot be silenced due to a missed deadline.

  1. Vote, and vote informed!

After several rounds of governmental procedures, you finally got your ballot: congrats! Now it is important for you to not only vote, but to vote informed. As former president John F. Kennedy once said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” Don’t be a misinformed or uninformed voter. Your ballot has an impact that, if misused, can have dire consequences. Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid this. First, ballotready.org is a fantastic resource that collects nonpartisan information on the candidates and issues on your ballot. Second, online versions of your local newspaper are another good source. (Recognize, however, that newspapers often have candidate information from explicitly partisan sources.) 

  1. Don’t forget the bottom of the ballot!

Local elections need your voice. Do you have a younger sibling? Your vote for the board of education will affect them. Do you have a family friend who owns a business? Your vote for the town manager will affect them. Do you plan on living in your hometown or state again? Your vote for town council or state representative will be affecting you and your future family’s lives. These offices, often mistaken for small and inconsequential, affect the lives of you and your loved ones directly. Research and vote for them accordingly.

Democracy’s participatory nature is quite messy, but it is the best way we know how to justly govern. However, democratic institutions cannot do this on their own. They require the time, effort and care of each one of its citizens. The buck stops with you. Will you register to vote, request an absentee ballot and make informed decisions? Or will your apathy starve our democracy? The strength of your ballot is up to you.

Audrey Feldman (’24) is majoring in Economics and Global Affairs and minoring in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, & Economics). She is a member of ND’s Write to Vote chapter.

W2V is the Notre Dame chapter of the national Write to Vote Project, a non-partisan, pro-democracy initiative. Its goal is to support democracy, encourage civic engagement and advance voting rights in the U.S. and around the world. You can contact NDW2V at ndw2v@nd.edu

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