Welcome to participatory democracy
Surely anyone who’s walked around campus or even up towards the University of Pittsburgh lately has been stopped and asked politely if he or she has registered to vote. Everyone on this campus has heard about the importance of voting; even so, those of us who were old enough to vote in the presidential election of 2004 may have been disillusioned when the country went to Bush, or conversely when the state of Pennsylvania went to Kerry.
While midterm elections are rarely as exciting as presidential races, there is a lot on the line in 2006. Be counted.
Cripple Bush, or keep him strong
Whether you vote blue, red, green, or otherwise, you can affect what happens to the Bush administration in the next two years even though Dubya himself is not on the ballot.
On NPR’s “All Things Considered” last Friday, David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, announced his prediction for the Senate and the House — a 27-seat increase for Democrats in the House and 50/50 split in the Senate.
A Senate evenly split or a Senate with more Democrats than Republicans could effectively cripple the Bush administration’s initiatives in the next two years. A 27-seat gain for House Democrats would mean the House would hold 229 Democrats and 205 Republicans, assuming one of the Democratic pick-ups will not be the one independent seat in the House. If Brooks is right, and Democrats rule the House and split the Senate, Bush’s more controversial or conservative plans for the rest of his term will be halted.
Whether you want to see Bush weakened or want to prevent the kind of overturn that Brooks predicts, the ballot is the only way to ensure that your opinion is taken into account.
Get past the negative energy
We understand if you have a little bit of healthy distrust for the government, but the best way to change it is to participate in its processes. Distrust was written into the Constitution, after all; it is why we have the Bill of Rights. You might be inclined to believe that your vote ends up in a trash pail, but even that is in the hands of the voters. Don’t like the Electoral College? Fight to enact change. The only way to resolve any personal reservations you may have about our voting process is to be active in civics.
It can be discouraging to be a voter today. Issues like abortion, immigration, and the war in Iraq can often lead to screaming matches. That’s why we encourage you to make educated decisions based on, at least, what you read on candidate websites or in newspapers.
It is unlikely that one vote will change the course of history, but one action can certainly influence the actor; by learning about candidates and voting accordingly, we become more active and enlightened about the political climate. We giggle in front of the television when the cheesy “The More You Know” ads come on, but they have a point. How can we recognize the need for change if we don’t take the time to form an opinion on what needs changing?
The yelling, screaming, and fear-mongering that are so often the tactic of the far left and the far right insult American intelligence — and the high-volume “debating” is often, sadly, mimicked in the form of campaign ads. One candidate running for Congress in Colorado even stooped so low as to design a mailer to look like a sex offender notification. The point of the mailer was to announce that the candidate’s opponent was soft on crime, but it made it look as if his opponent was a sex offender moving to the area.
Between sleazy, insulting ads and partisan screaming matches, we understand if you get a headache at the thought of voting. But once again, the only way to show you don’t appreciate this behavior is to vote against candidates who employ these odious tactics in their ads or who can’t debate without resorting to insults.
We are not Generation Apathy
Even the few who aren’t salivating at the thought of helping or hindering Bush should consider voting insurance for the future. Civic participation works best and remains strongest when it begins at a young age; in other words, get in the habit now. By taking an hour off to cast your ballot, you are working to ensure that you will continue to vote well into your adult life.
Voting among our generation is actually on the rise, but many people still think we young adults are tuned in to nothing but our iPods. Votes among people under 30 increased by 4.6 million in 2004, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Midterm elections have historically had a lower turnout among all voters — especially young voters — so it is especially important to shut the mouths of the naysayers by voting in this midterm election.
Take a chance to invest in not just the future of your civic participation, but also the future of your country. Part of the reason we vote is to enact change or maintain those policies and politicians that we believe are good. Chances are that if you are a U.S. citizen attending a university here, then you are planning to start your professional life in the States. It would be a damned shame to wake up after your graduation, $120,000 poorer, and realize that you hate the country you live in.
The cop-outs are more numerous than the candidates, but the most popular excuse in the book for political inaction is “I don’t like anyone who’s running.”
Spend five minutes with yourself and then five minutes online, and you’ll find someone you can support. What do you believe in? Do you think it’s humane to water-board detainees if it will save innocent lives? Do you think America’s working class deserves a higher minimum wage, or do you think it will cost jobs and cause more poverty?
If you can find neither donkey nor elephant to suit your views, turn to a third-party candidate. From the Green Party to the Pan-Sexual Peace Party to the Pirate Party, we guarantee that you can find like-minded people.
Still unsatisfied? Start your own party. What good will that do? Probably not much, admittedly. Take comfort in the wisdom of John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
Cast the ballot
With all of this said, we’d like to say we hope you’ll grace the polls with your presence tomorrow. If you’ve cast your absentee ballot already, more power to you. If you’re voting for the first time, congratulations, and welcome to participatory democracy. As the adage goes, it’s the absolute worst form of government in the world. Except for all the others.