The Collegian
Sunday, March 07, 2021

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OPINION: The Merit of Voting

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian

Many Americans, particularly young adults, stay home on Election Day because they simply don’t believe their vote will make a difference. Voter turnout in a U.S. presidential election has not been higher than 62% since 1968. However, as of Nov. 1 this year, 43% of voters nationwide had already cast their ballots in the presidential election. Could there be renewed faith in the power of the vote? If you’re still a skeptic of the merit of voting, I urge you to keep reading…

Voter suppression has been an issue in the United States ever since its founding. The effort, time and resources spent trying to prevent certain groups of people from voting is perhaps the most convincing argument for why your vote matters. If a vote were irrelevant, it wouldn’t have taken years of protest for women, African Americans and essentially every group of people except property-owning white men to win the right to vote. 

The Voting Rights Act aimed to strike down barriers to voting, such as literacy tests, and gave the federal government a larger role in preventing voter suppression. At the time it was passed in 1965, there were 72 Black elected officials across the Deep South, Virginia and parts of North Carolina. A decade later, that number had reached nearly 1,000. In addition to gaining representation, the interests of the Black community were finally taken into consideration by many white politicians who now relied on their vote. 

Despite the progress made since 1965, the racial composition of Congress does not fully reflect that of the nation as a whole. Today, the United States population is 61% white, yet 78% of our Congressional representatives are white. Despite this discrepancy, the current 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse Congress to date. There’s no denying that the power of the vote has made this increased diversity possible. To argue that voting makes no difference is to discredit voters as a source of this progress.

You might agree that a demographic of voters has the power to effect change, but what about an individual vote? In the case of a close race, a relative handful of votes can determine an election’s outcome. This was the case in 1960, when John F. Kennedy won the popular vote by fewer than 120,000 votes out of 68.8 million.

Some voters are discouraged by the fact that the popular vote doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome of a presidential election. In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency with almost 57% of the electoral votes, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 3 million votes. Whether or not the Electoral College is the best system for presidential elections is a separate issue, but even as it stands, your vote is powerful in two other ways. 

First, if you live in a swing state, such as Michigan or Pennsylvania, your vote will determine who wins the state’s electoral votes. A handful of votes can decide an election not just nationally by popular vote, as was the case in 1960, but also in swing states by electoral vote, as was the case in 2016. Second, your vote determines who wins the local and state-level positions on the ballot — and many of these elections will impact your daily life even more so than the presidential election. Senators, Congressional representatives, governors, judges and mayors are just a few positions to be voted on that are sometimes overlooked. It’s also possible that a state constitutional amendment will be on the ballot. For example, this year Virginians were asked to vote on Congressional representatives, Senators, and two constitutional amendments.

Voting is an effective agent for political change that shouldn’t be taken for granted. To decide not to vote is to throw away the most powerful tool at your disposal to have your interests represented in politics. This election, consider all the positive change we’ve achieved thanks to our right to vote, and get to the polls. It’s your turn.

Contact opinions writer Julia Braham at julia.braham@richmond.edu.

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