Students: Register to vote, make a difference

The act of voting is often considered to be one of the few responsibilities that citizens of the United States have.

Because of my age, I’ve only had the opportunity to vote twice during the 2016 presidential election cycle, during the primary and the general elections. But just a few years earlier, in the 2014 midterm election, only 19.9 percent of young voters, which includes 18- to 29-year-olds, voted. Voter turnout for young adults that year was the lowest it had ever been.

If I had been of voting age at that time, perhaps I would have slightly shifted the numbers, but now I am focused on the elections that will take place in just a few weeks. Everyone should vote – but especially the young age demographic.

As college students, our focus may be on exams, homework and social gatherings, but registering to vote shouldn’t slip from our minds. Many students at GW and across the country will have to vote through an absentee ballot, but that should not stop students from taking to the polls. While the timeline for registering for an absentee ballot isn’t consistent in each state, most states allow people to request a ballot within seven days of election day, and now it is easier than ever to get information about registering online.

As a school where students are highly interested in politics, we may be outliers when it comes to voting. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that 79 percent of students were registered to vote in 2016 and about 60 percent actually cast ballots, but those numbers can still be improved.

Organizations on campus and the University have made it seamless to register to vote, if you haven’t already. The GW College Democrats partnered with the Democratic National Committee to host a voter registration drive in the center of campus last month, and earlier this week a voter registration drive was set up in the Marvin Center for students. Voter registration events, hosted by GW Votes, will continue through the midterm elections, so there’s no excuse to not cast a ballot come November.

Only six of every 10 eligible voters cast a vote during the 2016 presidential election, despite the contentious nature of the election. This begs the question of why a considerable amount of people decide to abstain from voting. One argument is that many people don’t believe that their voice matters in the grand scheme of things or that they are only one vote. Another argument is that people shouldn’t vote if they aren’t completely satisfied with any of the candidates who end up on the ballots. But voting is pivotal when it comes down to which leaders are elected, and the issues that they decide to focus on.

While there are many barriers that prevent citizens from voting, including criminal records, voter ID laws and registration issues, millions of eligible citizens choose not to vote during each and every election.

Choosing not to vote, whether it is under the guise of believing that one vote doesn’t matter or that the candidates are all bad, isn’t a reason to abstain. Perhaps one vote doesn’t matter, but millions of people who choose not to vote are millions of voices that will not be taken into account. And that does matter.

I’ve grown frustrated with individuals who are eligible to vote and choose not to vote, but complain about the issues that surround their communities and our country. Former President Barack Obama famously said, “don’t boo, vote” during the 2016 Democratic convention. But you can do both.

While it is common to choose not to vote, especially when it comes to local or midterm elections, young voters have a chance to change the way our demographic participates. Election after election has proven that fewer people cast a vote during the midterm elections than the presidential elections, but students can drive that number up if we take to the polls.

So register to vote. Cast a ballot. And if you still choose not to, I implore you to look at the problems that surround you and your community, and ask why.

Renee Pineda, a senior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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