Your vote does matter.
Sure, politics can be frustrating, especially during an election year when campaigns use every media platform available to bash one another. “I become as tired of politics as anyone else,” says Dr. David Roebuck of the History and Political Science Department. “At this point, I can’t wait for Election Day to pass.”
But Roebuck – and every other American citizen – has one responsibility between now and Nov. 6: voting. Casting a vote is the ultimate civic responsibility, the ultimate contribution to democracy, and – believe it or not – your vote does make a difference.
“Some of you will remember the election of 2000, when George Bush narrowly won the presidency over Al Gore,” explains Dr. Marvin Schulteis, political science instructor at Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks. “Florida was the key state. [Bush] won Florida by a little more than 400 votes. Now, if you divide 400 votes by the number of counties in Florida, it’s seven voters per county. I don’t mean to offend Democrats, but if seven lazy Democrats had taken care of their civic duties that day and gone to the polls to vote – just seven in each county – Al Gore would have been elected president of the United States.”
Okay, so maybe you don’t live in Florida – or any swing state. “As a Missouri voter I might be tempted to skip voting because of the rancorous campaigns and the fact that the candidates have largely ignored my state,” Roebuck says. “However, there are numerous state and local offices at stake; the congressional races are important, and several issues face the voters via referendum or initiative. It is still important to vote.”
If you’re not up-to-speed with the state and local races, obtain a sample ballot (often available online through the county clerk’s office) and start researching the contenders in your area. Local newspapers often offer election coverage and candidate bios.
“The fact that we have different parties should not be seen as a war zone, but rather an opportunity to recognize that we live in a free country and have the liberty to choose which party we most closely agree with – therein lies the beauty of being an American!”“Regardless of political affiliation, I always encourage my friends to do their own research rather than relying on someone else to tell them how to vote, or relying on how they voted during the last election,” says junior Jessica Houston, who is active in the Columbia College Republicans (CCR) student group. “I think it is our responsibility to search for and consider the facts ourselves and vote for what we truly believe in, not just what we are told by our friends.”
-Columbia College junior Jessica Houston
Not sure where to start? Overwhelmed with information? Roebuck recommends politifact.com for checking whether a candidate’s claims are valid. Dr. Terry Smith, Executive Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs and self-described “election junkie,” recommends visiting the League of Women Voters for accurate information. “Their whole mission is informed citizenship in voting,” he says.
Smith teaches American Political Parties (POSC 361), which coincides with election years. During his first class, he asks students about their earliest political memories. “Voting preferences are formed in the family,” he says. But in an effort to expand students’ knowledge of the political world – in particularly the amount of work required to run a campaign – Smith requires them to volunteer with a campaign for at least 20 hours during two months. “In my class, students are engaged pretty deeply,” he says. “But on campus, I don’t see a whole lot of activity.”
SGA President Avery Bourne agrees. “I think this election, on the whole, is not causing near the amount of excitement as the ’08 election, especially among younger voters,” she says. “Students are unsure about the election; for some it is exciting, for others, it is frustrating due to the barrage of political ads.”
Houston offers another explanation: “Most students have gotten past the excitement of their first voting experience after they turned 18, and now they are not only extremely busy with school, but many students are not going to school in the same place where they are registered to vote. That extra hassle of having to figure out absentee voting is something that many students would just rather not deal with.”
Bourne, a junior majoring in American Studies with minors in history, political science and legal studies, will travel back to her hometown of Pawnee, Ill. to vote because she did not request an absentee ballot. Despite the three-hour drive, the 18-year-old is excited to vote in her first presidential election, especially because she worked for three campaigns while she was home this summer. “It is important to be involved because as a citizen, if you care about the outcome of the election, you have the opportunity to be part of the system.”
Mike Sleadd, chair of the Art Department and faculty sponsor of the Columbia College Democrats (CCD), has been voting since 1968 when he voted for Eugene McCarthy for president. “When you vote in many elections, you aren’t always going to back the winner,” he reminds us. “I firmly believe that it is our duty to our civilization that we be active participants in elections. Be a part of the entire electoral process – local and national. If you don’t vote, keep your groaning to yourself!”
Student groups, such as CCR and CCD, encourage political awareness, discussion about political and social issues and promoting positive change on campus and beyond. In addition to distributing information about when and how to vote, the groups often work with local campaigns by making posters that outline certain issues or by phone banking. “I think for the size of Columbia College, we do a great job of trying to make students aware of the issues and encouraging voting,” explains Houston, who is a business administration marketing major. “Being involved is fun – and something that we all should be doing as responsible citizens!”
But if you can’t be – or would prefer not to be – involved for the duration of a campaign, simply remember to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6. “It’s a simple process with a huge impact,” Houston, says. “We are able to speak our minds through voting on what we want the next four years of our country and lives to look like.”
“I’ve voted many times in my life, and it never gets old,” Smith says. “You go to your polling place, and you’ve got choices and privacy, and you know your vote’s going to count. I always walk away thinking ‘It’s great to be an American!’”
History professor Jim Pasley asks folks to get out and vote:
Dr. Marvin Schulteis shares his thoughts on how a handful of votes can make all the difference:
Lake campus director Dr. John Keeney shares his thoughts on fulfilling our civic duty: