We are less than a month away from Election Day, Nov. 3, and it is nearly impossible to avoid that fact wherever you go. Whether it's overhearing highlights from the presidential and vice presidential debates, having to deal with your family's off-handed political opinions or even stumbling upon Kanye West's "presidential" tweets on social media, there's no getting around it. This year's election cycle seems to be one of the most contentious yet, and it seems unlikely that the chaos will calm down in the ensuing weeks, much to the entire nation's dismay.
And yet, at the crux of it all, voting matters. So, you might be asking — why? Why do people care so much about one election? Why is voting such a big deal? And more importantly — why should you care?
I won't mince words — I find the constant political rancor exhausting. Who wants to be constantly bombarded with depressingly horrifying news? Who is asking for more incoherent debates, more blatant attacks, more shouting matches between panelists and anxiety-fueled rants about Supreme Court Justices and pandemic-related news? I bet very few people are. It seems all too easy to just cover your ears, close your eyes and wait for the raging dumpster fire that is 2020 to finally be extinguished. I, for one, have been tempted to stop engaging with current events altogether and dive into blissful ignorance.
But — and I cannot stress this enough — we cannot afford to do that. Not now, not ever. While the whole political process is genuinely quite awful and elections are stressful, it is also important. Voting may very well be the most important thing you ever do.
I can imagine some readers rolling their eyes right about now — and honestly, why shouldn't they? The discourse about voting that has circulated the nation for decades seems corny and tired — and it is. Of course we all know voting is important, just like we know the sky is blue and we fall back to Earth because of gravity. We know these things because that's what we've been told all our lives in school and by politicians and activists — remember, voting is a "civic duty,” whatever that means. But when terms like "civic duty" and "fundamental democratic process" are thrown around all the time, they can seem vague and disconnected from reality, so how can we be expected to actually take them to heart?
Voting isn't fun, and it isn't necessarily easy either. Just ask the countless Americans who have spent hours waiting in lines to cast their ballots or the people who have fought voter suppression time and time again in our most vulnerable communities. So why vote? What will I get out of it?
To that, I say this — voting isn't meant to be any of those things. In fact, it’s a far cry from eating out with friends or traveling to new destinations. But that's because voting is about more than personal gain and fulfillment. People vote because lives depend on it. They vote on behalf of the people who can't afford to take a day off of work because Election Day isn't a national holiday. They vote because the system — corrupt and flawed as it is — will do everything it can to muffle people’s voices, and we cannot afford to let them take this away from us too.
Yes, voting is inconvenient. Many people in our generation say they can't be bothered to jump through so many hoops — registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot and fighting back against politically motivated obstruction, to name a few — or that it's not worth the effort. Some are even apathetic towards it altogether, saying their vote doesn't matter.
But that sort of apathy comes from a place of privilege — the privilege of being secure enough in your position in America to not feel threatened by a negative outcome in an election. For some, voting doesn't feel like a choice. For some, voting is a necessity because the futures of their communities really do depend on it. For many people in this country, voting is about taking power back. Voting is about standing up for the real issues that will affect millions of people in this country — and even in other ones. For them, voting is defiance.
The political process is all the more important for students who attend the University. The vast majority of us come from comfortable backgrounds, and many — myself included — can feel as though the greatest dangers of harmful political decisions don't really affect us. But even if it is true that we aren't personally affected by the next president or the composition of the U.S. Congress, why wouldn't we want to use our power to do good? While it is not the only way to improve society, casting a ballot is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Whether you skew Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, we should all want to vote. In an ideal world, we all would. Even if you don't feel well informed on the issues, there are plenty of resources that take less than 10 minutes to skim through and read up on candidates' positions. Bring a friend along with you if you plan on voting in person or go to the polls alone or request a ballot and vote by mail — just be sure to have a voting plan. I encourage you to consider voting. The country will thank you for it.
In Virginia, information about absentee and early voting can be found here. Early voting has also started in Charlottesville at the Registrar's Office, and in Albemarle County, you can vote early in person at the 5th Street County Office Building. A list of polling places can be found here for Election Day on Nov. 3, and if voting in person, make sure to bring a photo ID with you.