Vote Like Your Life Depends on It

By JULIA CUNEO, Staff Writervoting-booths

I know you’ve been told this a million times recently. By Lil Jon, by Michelle Obama, by Lena Dunham, by every Political Science professor on campus. It gets annoying after awhile, because obviously you should vote. You KNOW that. You’ve known that since you were in third grade and you learned about Popular Sovereignty.

Still, somehow, no matter how many times celebrities “rock the vote,” it never really feels like America wants you to vote. It makes you feel lazy and unintelligent and guilty that you drag your feet or forget altogether. It seems so obvious, everyone tells you to do it, so why don’t you?

There’s another side to this story, a secret part of American history. It’s the part that instituted the Poll Tax and Grandfather Clause to keep blacks in the Jim Crow south from voting. It’s the part that force fed suffragettes picketing in front of the white house for their right to vote. It’s the part of America that doesn’t actually want you to vote: the leaders.

The electoral system in the United States is designed to exclude people like you. People who work, young people, people of color, LGBTQ people, college students, people in debt – anyone who is more likely to vote against the establishment will inevitably confront barriers designed to stop them from voting.

I believe in the ability of my generation to overcome these barriers. We have the tools to change the entire status quo, to refuse to fall for the trick. The only thing left is for the trick to be exposed.

To start with, voting is on a Tuesday. Who the hell can afford to walk off the job for a couple of hours to go to their polling place? Not me. Probably not you! There is no reason voting shouldn’t be accessible, easy, and available to everyone. Yet we vote on one day, a weekday, when people who don’t have flexible schedules are more likely to be unable to attend.

These days it is incredibly easy to request an absentee ballot through miabsentee.com. You can get your ballot mailed to you, fill it out at home, and send it back. Why isn’t this the norm for every ballot? The fact is, it would be too easy. If we allowed voting online or through the mail we wouldn’t have a voter turnout of 18 percent and it wouldn’t only be the wealthy and elite who could easily make their voices heard.

But of course, lack of time isn’t the only reason you sometimes “forget” to vote. There’s also the overwhelming amount of information you would need in order to enter the voting booth with even a smidge of confidence.

Voting information is hard to find and harder to interpret. Again, the system is set up so that all of the work is done by the individual – making it harder to vote and less likely you’ll do so. All that information could easily be summed up and sent to you by mail or email, but it isn’t.

Both of these systemic barriers could be overcome with just a small investment in our voting system. They’re not new problems, and they have simple solutions. The government is perfectly capable of creating a more accessible process. It hasn’t been done because the people in power don’t want you to vote nearly as much as your third grade civics class would have you believe.

And then there’s the way your vote never seems to count or make any difference. Well, this is on purpose, too. Michigan districts are some of the most gerrymandered in the country, meaning people of color and poor communities as well as left-leaning cities, like Detroit, are sectioned off, leaving a majority of seats easily won by hard-line conservatives. The same process has been used by Democrats in other states.

Whichever party is utilizing the tactic, the result is the same: a total removal of the need for compromise. If 60 percent of the districts are fully conservative, while 40 percent are fully liberal, the representatives don’t have to do any difficult negotiating. The 60 percent of legislators can virtually pass any bill they want, leading to further and further polarization.

This is why no matter how much dissatisfaction there is with the s—heads in Lansing, elections never seem to really oust anybody. The districts are situated so that no politician needs to moderate his opinion in order to get reelected. In this way, even if all of the voters most likely to vote against the Republican party – the students, the people of color, the union workers – decided they were definitely going to vote in 2015, there’d still be very little change in the actual results, because that 60 percent of seats would remain untouched.

In addition, you may have heard of the Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court decided that money counts as free speech and therefore campaign contributions cannot be limited or controlled. In a country where 45 percent of the wealth is held by one percent of the population, this pretty much means that one percent decides the winner of elections.

So why does it matter that you vote? If it’s not going to make any difference why bother? And what makes millennials the perfect generation to give the system the finger?

All of this – the hoops, the confusion, the corruption – was done with one intent in mind: to keep people from voting, to make them feel helpless. Because voting is not actually about who is in power. It’s actually about a huge community – a state – talking to itself about values, about leadership, and about the future.

We’ve been told our country is deeply divided, deeply polarized. Voting is an opportunity to talk about those differences and cast our lot, to see how many agree with us and how many don’t. When only 18 percent of our eligible population is voting, then only 18 percent of that conversation is being had. So if you choose not to vote because our country is too corrupt, or our leaders are too out of touch, you’re doing your part in upholding that system of inequality and polarization.

If there’s one thing I know about my generation – the pioneers of Facebook, the holders of massive lifetime debt, the innovators of the selfie, the children of a great recession – it’s that we don’t like to be told what to do. I expect, and I hope, that once my generation notices the intergenerational fraud being perpetrated against us we will turn around and vote like our lives depend on it. Just because they told us not to.