The right to vote and participate in governance is one of the most cherished rights in America. You may have heard people claim that voting is the cornerstone of our democracy or, perhaps that if you don’t vote you don’t have the right to complain. While you actually do have the right to complain whether or not you voted, I do think that voting is an important responsibility of citizenship. It is not a requirement, but it should be considered an obligation.
Voting for a particular candidate or piece of legislation is important, but participating supports the bigger idea as a whole, which is that the will of the people is a driving factor in the success of our country. And it supports the concept of a peaceful and consistent transition of power. Do you realize what an amazing accomplishment that is? Every four years since the Civil War, we check ourselves. We take away power and consider giving it to someone new. We limit our own authority by cycling through public servants because we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But the fact is that not everyone participates. For the past three decades, voters have been disproportionately older, of higher income, and more partisan in their interests, and gaps in voter turnout impact policy decisions. For example, just last year, 52 percent of eligible voters who earned more than $150,000 per year participated and only about 25 percent of eligible voters earned less than $10,000. And 18 to 24 year olds vote at considerably lower rates than those who are over 65.
Research shows that turnout matters for determining how elected officials reflect the will of their constituents. It just makes sense: voter preferences predict political behavior, while nonvoter preferences do not. Politicians know exactly who votes (particularly who votes for them!) and they set their agendas to keep their voters happy. If the voter turnout is lower in a particular demographic, they will naturally pay less attention to that population and their concerns, focusing instead on those who are informed and participating.
Thus, higher voter turnout of the college-aged population can help increase the influence of a younger generation!
Voting is a learned activity. To vote, you need information. At UP, we have VoteUP, a collaborative effort between faculty, staff, and students to coordinate our efforts for voter registration, voter education, and voter mobilization. Our goal this year is to register 800 new voters between Friday, Sept. 2 and Friday, Oct. 14. The Service and Justice Coordinators will be working with the Portland BUS project to accomplish this goal.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to register and to get involved. We will also be hosting a number of educational panels and events related to becoming a more informed voter. We will kick off these efforts with an event celebrating Constitution Day on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
The entire schedule and a number of educational resources can be found at up.edu/voteup.
So, now is the time to get registered, educate yourself on the issues, and get involved!
Jeromy Koffler, Director of Student Activities