Why Voting Matters

Politics is one of those divisive issues you’re not supposed to discuss with friends. So naturally, I love talking about it. There are those who have strong opinions, but among college students, I find a lot of people don’t really have an opinion.

“I don’t know much about politics,” people often tell me when I bring up the upcoming elections.

In my experience, this is usually a nicer way of saying “I don’t care, so please shut up about it.”

I don’t expect anyone to be a political expert. You don’t have to know the ins and outs of Mitt Romney’s tax plan or even the latest crazy thing Ron Paul said. Maybe you only know what you learned in your fifth grade history class. That’s OK.

But you should care. At least in a general sense.

As an American, you have the right to vote. But voting is not just a right, it’s a privilege. We get a voice in government by electing the officials who represent us. This is an essential part of our freedom as American citizens. The desire for democracy has been the basis for riots, revolutions and wars. Thousands of Americans have died defending our freedom.

Don’t take that for granted.

America probably won’t end up becoming a dictatorship if you don’t vote, but the officials who wind up in office do have an impact on our rights. They make decisions and pass bills that determine things as monumental as the actions of our military, the legality of abortion and same-sex marriage and the extent of our First Amendment rights on the Internet.

Furthermore, who we elect to office makes a difference in how other countries view America. Whoever becomes president represents America to the rest of the world. The government’s actions can determine how people view you when you travel abroad. Some people will assume that just because you’re an American citizen, you agree with everything the government does. You should at least have your say in what those actions are.

Eighteen-to-24-year-olds historically have the lowest voter turnout. Although the 2008 election saw a relatively high turnout among young people – about 48.5 percent – participation dropped back down to around 21 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only around 50 percent of college-age citizens reported even being registered to vote in 2010, and far fewer reported actually voting.

We, as college students, should be the ones who care most about voting. The decisions made by Congress will impact our future, so why should we let our grandparents decide who gets to make them? We’re the ones who will be living, working and having families under the new laws, so we should tell the government what issues are important to us by backing up the candidates who support them.

I’ve heard some people say “I don’t feel informed enough to vote.” Well, OK, then get informed. Google search the candidates. It will take you maybe 30 minutes, tops, and I guarantee you’ll know more than you did before.

Elections matter. And not just the general presidential election because the president is not the only one making decisions.

You don’t have to love politics, you don’t have to know much about it, but you should care about the future of America. People often call college students “the future,” but we are also the present, the now. We don’t have to wait until we have a career to become active citizens. We have the right to vote, so let’s use it.

Note: I wrote this column for the Spinnaker. I thought it was especially relevant as UNF is hosting the GOP debate tomorrow night.