With less than sixty days until the presidential election of 2012, everyone and everything has reached a fever pitch around politics. Whether you love or hate politics (and are espousing such position in your conversations) the political animal in each of us has been roused from its slumber and is slouching around the den. I might be the first to say it doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, but it is important to have political thoughts. Crucially, it is essential you take your political whims and put them into action—regard this action as compulsory. To ameliorate any haze the headline1 might have created, it’s time you vote.
Voting seems like such a logical thing to do and yet it’s something so few people are prepared to do. Some certainly believe that participating in the election process forms a kind of duress they’d rather not be held to: The electoral college is confusing and backwards and fights against the modern understanding of democratic process; voting seems purely symbolic; the procedure for voting is optimized for the 1845 agrarian America; the candidates don’t represent the voters or voters’ personal understanding of ethics and morality; too often it seems like the only choice is between the puppet on the left and the puppet on the right.
You might be completely and totally right. Yet, you still must vote.
Perhaps you really believe in a candidate i.e. you don’t just believe the words they say but you believe in their capacity to lead. Maybe you’ve done the proper research and one of the presidential–vice-presidential pairs’ politics perfectly align with your own. Maybe they align 80 percent of the time and that’s enough for you to comfortable give them your endorsement. You speak to your peers, elders, and ideals in praise of Candidate X. You listen to Candidate X’s speeches and they rouse some hidden fire in your gut. There’s no question—it doesn’t matter if your state traditionally votes Candidate X’s color—November 6 is your day.
But this likely is not the case. The youth voting block is traditionally one of the least influential and that is not surprising. Most American youth don’t believe in America anymore or never have known America as something worth believing in. The demographically Young Voter is perpetually bored and disgusted by politics. What’s difficult to swallow is the fact that the entrenched Establishment2 wants you, the Young Voter, to remain disgusted and cynical and bored. The less the new and unpredictable voters show up, the more the Establishment votes count. Our elected officials, the parties they represent, and the people who fuel those parties are incumbents to their holdings and low voting turnout will always favor those who already hold power.
This is a staggering secret all politicians know, and they know it is in their best interest to keep you (i.e. the Young Voter) pathologically opposed to the concept of voting and participating in democracy, and it is for this reason they use huge intellectual resources (and trust me, no party is run by idiots) to keep you at home and disinterested on election day. It is for this reason there is likely no chance of the election process being modernized, of the electoral college being reformed, or for voting registration to become stupidly easy. It is for this reason that many states have issued Drivers License requirements to vote, thereby barring millions from participating in democracy. The Blue and Red candidates may have spent $262 million and $163 million on campaigning respectively, but they have spent nothing on making the election process simpler.
This is all true, and maybe it’s enough to rile you up and set fire to your political-animal nature. But, it is not reason alone to vote.
Whether you show up on election day or not, you are still casting a vote of abstention, and a vote of abstention always favors the entrenched participants. This is to say: no matter how disenfranchised you feel, no matter how the delusive quality of politics manifests itself in your mind, there is no such thing as not voting. You either vote from the booth or you vote with political malaise from your couch. A ballot, of sorts, is always cast.
Perhaps this doesn’t make the best argument to urge you to go through the arduous procedure of registering to vote and then showing up on election day. But every elegible American is being represented in this election and not voting only makes another vote stronger3.
The Young American Voter is a powerful force who prefers to think massively on political, ethical, moral, and philosophical issues but puts little impetus on one another to act through the beliefs they hold. Maybe it’s laziness the Young American Voter has, or existential ennui, or the terrible feeling that their time is better spent in the theory of politics than the act of it. Maybe the plunge into political research inundates the YAV with discord and paradox so relentless it cripples their capacity to believe one candidate is actually better than the other.
Still, you must vote.
Registering and Casting the Ballot
At this point, you might feel mentally prepared to vote but unprepared to legally vote. The first and foremost question: are you registered to vote? With the affirmative or negative response to this question in mind know that there are three major ways in which a person can cast their ballot: in-person voting on election day, sending in an absentee ballot, or early voting in-person. Two of these require the voter to be in the state they registered to vote in on the day of the election or during a week long window before the election. Absentee voting does not require the voter to be in the state of registration.
With the registration question and the three forms of voting in mind determine what your best options are.
First, if you have not registered, you will need to. If you are a student living at a university that is not in your home state, you are legally entitled to vote in the state your university is in. This is something that some officials may challenge, but they are always incorrect. Incorrect or not, any dissent on the premise will make your life difficult. Sometimes absentee voting is the simplest option (register in your home state; vote by mail).
Some states have different rules on how they handle absentee voting and registration periods and procedures. The Breenan Center is a tremendous resource. Each state’s rules are listed there. Long Distance Voter also offers great information and direct links to county offices to assist in applying for an Absentee ballot.
Time is critical if you have not registered or applied for an absentee ballot. Most states like around a month before the election to get all their paperwork in order. Also, if you will be 18 years of age at the time of the election, you are eligible to vote so go ahead and register.
1 If the headline offended you because you have never performed a coital act with anybody’s mother, I apologize. I didn’t really mean to imply that you had but was rather making a slight metaphorical comparison between those who don’t vote and those who have intercourse with matriarchs: you might be making a poor choice. If it makes you feel any better, I would trust my mother in your company (sorry, Mom).
2 It’s very easy to look at the word “Establishment” and shrug it off as some connotatively negative judgement on the state of hierarchy in a political system. I mean Establishment (capital E) in the most straightforward way: the group of people who represent the controlling body of an organization; the powerful incumbents. The Establishment is a changing thing. But in the current American political system it is mostly a binary entity which shifts back and forth between shades of Republican and Democrat. The shades exist but hardly get any attention. The Establishment described represents this binary flux.
3 This line of argument is undoubtedly saturated with the typical cynicism of the Young Voter. This clearly isn’t the only perspective. Democracy that abides to due process is a remarkable thing. It is also a thing not ethnocentrically understood. The Young American Voter assumes that our elections will follow rules of logic and the imperatives of written law. If they didn’t follow law, the YAV would feel cheated—an injustice would occur, and injustice is not something YAVs tolerate. Yet the majority of the world’s human population does not have the luxury of such a process. While the YAV might be marinating in cynical doubt for the virtue of the American system and claim they are but a cog in a machine, it is important to know most machines are rendered useless when cogs stop working. Perhaps it is merely symbolic, but there’s a small gap between symbol and reality in best practice. The YAV shouldn’t feel guilt for not voting on the premise that other’s don’t have the option to, but the YAV should be understanding of the responsibility of citizenship (to sound terribly old-fashioned) that each American bears.