According to exit polls, youth voter turnout in Virginia’s election last week was a paltry 10 percent. Why?
People come up with long lists of excuses for why they don’t vote, ranging from time constraints to the temperature outside to the time it takes to get to the polling place. But I think these excuses simply mask the one that few are willing to say out loud: People simply don’t think their votes and actions can have an actual impact of their environment.
Why can’t we see the effect our elected officials have on our lives, our academic institution and our nation’s future? I cannot answer this question. What I can do, however, is attempt to convey my profound belief that elections do matter, and civic actions and votes count. Public policy affects you everyday. It’s easy to see how national elections affect you; take a mandate on health insurance, for example. It’s not hard to connect the dots and see that your vote for congressman may ultimately decide whether or not you are required to have a health insurance policy.
It’s even easier to see the connections on the state level. Whether you are a smoker who can only light up in certain places, or just a student suffering from the latest budget cut at the College of William and Mary — Virginia now only pays for 14 percent of our annual operating costs — every seat in the House of Delegates has acute effects on your life. Take the issue of transportation, for example, which seems far removed from our cozy corner of Williamsburg.
Millions of dollars in tax revenue come from northern Virginia, and that revenue helps pay for our education. If our infrastructure in northern Virginia becomes dilapidated, businesses will leave, and the quality of life for all Virginians will go down. Just because all politics are local does not mean a statewide issue can’t affect your life.
State policy matters. Your actions — getting educated on the issues, voting, imploring your friends and colleagues to do both — matter. Still, do you care? Are you willing to put in the small amount of time it would take to be informed, and encourage your friends to be informed?
People pay lip service to activism all the time. But at the end of the day, action is up to you. Are you going to be lazy and complacent, and then complain about how your government doesn’t work for you down the road? Or are you going to spend the negligible amount of time it takes to get informed about the candidates and issues, pick a candidate and vote?
It’s true, I’m a little behind the curve on this one. It’s Nov. 3, post-election. But voting and learning about political issues is a lifetime process. Discussion about the 2010 midterms is already beginning, and your vote will matter. If you didn’t vote on Nov. 3, it’s a shame you missed this terrific opportunity to shape the world you will be living in for the next few years — looking at you, freshmen.
Don’t despair — you can make up for it. There’s plenty of time to learn about the issues for next year’s congressional election. Your work begins today: Learn about the issues and the candidates so that next year you can influence the course of the United States.
E-mail Harrison Roday at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cartoon by Vicky Chao.