As a journalist, I’ve been drilled since college that I don’t get to make known my political opinions. But I think I can offer some insight about an election in general. Because whether you cheered, cried or felt like your hands were tied Tuesday, many now ask what brought us here. Well:
» We’re terrible at voting.
This year, 57 percent of us voted, and that’s projected as a near record-high. It’s a call to celebration when just more than half of us choose our next president. In 2012, 19 percent of people about my age — millennials — voted nationally. Early estimates are saying about the same or even fewer showed up this year.
I’ve heard peers say that it’s useless: The system is corrupt anyway; what good can we do? But the fewer of us who vote, the more power we give to those corrupt voices. They show up, put terrible people in front of us, we feel weary and decide it’s not worth it, and so on. Stop the cycle. Vote at the lower levels (more on that later). Vote for your president. Just vote.
» We’re terrible at reading, at least reading what matters.
I get it. It’s as blatant as ever that my generation doesn’t open the newspaper an hour before work with our coffees. “We just don’t have time,” I heard recently.
But we do stare at our phones for hours at a time, sit in front of computers and quote the latest Facebook article over dinner conversation, no?
Stop reading memes and read up on the issues. And I don’t mean Huffington Post, Breitbart, MSNBC or Fox News. Stop reading the news that just feeds you what you want and do a deep-dive. Remember the time you thought you’d just look up Jennifer Lawrence on Wikipedia and ended up seven topics away? You’ll find candidates’ bios are just as interesting, if you just give them the time.
» When we do read, we forget our lower-level candidates
Remember the adage, “Even if you vote for the best name, make sure you vote?” A friend recently countered that if you don’t feel comfortable voting all the way down the ballot, don’t feel obligated.
But here’s the deal: News reporters spend hours before the election interviewing candidates from all sides and in multiple races. And this isn’t a shameless plug — our TV competitor-colleagues do the same. I didn’t realize how important local and regional school boards were until I moved here. In those races, your vote can influence how your tax dollars are spent and how that affects students.
Plus, if there’s one thing we can all agree on about President Barack Obama, it’s that in 2007, he was a relatively unheard-of senator. If your state senator wants to increase taxes on all pasta because she doesn’t believe in its carb-a-liciousness, do you want her becoming president someday? Or even in the state Capitol to begin with? Local elections have come down to less than 10 votes before.
Daunting? Your answer isn’t just to ignore the legislative candidate’s name on the ballot because you only read about the president before voting. And it’s not to put her in office because her name is Carmalita, which is a much cuter name than that Helga. Read both Carmalita’s and Helga’s stances ahead of your vote. Make a decision. It’ll only take a few minutes away from your Wikipedia deep dive, and you probably read something on your phone while watching Netflix anyway.
» It’s not like we’re all that encouraged to vote.
I remember my seventh-grade social studies teacher preaching the importance of voting — even if it was for the best name.
The sentiment has shifted. Now, some states have tried to shorten early voting hours and enforce strict identification requirements among other requirements. The push to make voting more accessible is seen as a liberal thing to do — really, it’s just the right thing to do.
I’ve gone months without getting a new driver’s license after a move, because in any given pay period, the $12 that the DMV charges can be used elsewhere. There are people much poorer than me who see that money as vital — and those voices are vital. Not because “the poor vote is likely liberal.” But, because if we’re truly fighting corruption, we need to hear from those who may not have proof of residency or who don’t drive and can’t afford a state-issued ID. I promise that our court officials here guard against voter fraud.