By, SABINA IDRIZ
A democracy is typically run by elected representatives who have power vested in them by voting citizens. For Americans to be fairly represented by these people in power, we have to vote.
Election results affect all of our lives; these are the people in control of how our country is run. Healthcare, education, taxes and more are affected by those who are elected to abide by the will of the people. If you are unhappy with any aspect of current laws or systems in place, you can participate in elections and help elect the people that will best serve your needs.
Voter turnout in the United States is lagging behind compared to many other developed countries. In the 2016 election, 55.7 percent of our voting age population actually voted – meanwhile in Denmark’s 2015 election, 80.34 percent of theirs cast a ballot. Some countries have compulsory voting laws. In Belgium, citizens who do not vote may face prosecution or a moderate fine. I do not agree with these laws and am glad the United States does not have any. It might increase voter turnout but citizens would not be freely choosing to vote.
In our elections, 18 to 24-year-olds consistently vote the least out of all age groups. The turnout rates were abysmal in Iowa in 2014; the Secretary of State’s report states only 23.6 percent of those in the age group who were registered to vote cast a ballot, and they were only 4.9 percent of all votes. 50 to 64-year-olds accounted for the majority of votes, casting 33.5 percent of them. Everyone who is eligible to vote should have a role in the outcome of elections, but as so few young adults cast their ballots, older populations have much more influence on the results.
How do we increase this voter turnout and ensure as many Americans as possible are fairly represented? Drake and our state itself have been trying to answer this question.
It is entirely thanks to the efforts of this university that I’ve already cast my vote. All I had to do was walk into the Olmsted Center as Polk County set up voting booths on Oct. 11 for six hours. This gave all registered voters in the eligible precincts an easy opportunity to make their voice heard. Drake also hosts political events which can boost civic engagement on campus, and student organizations such as Drake Republicans and Drake Democrats also encourage voting.
Our university’s efforts seem to be succeeding: in November of last year, Drake received a bronze seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for its above-average student voting rate. Other universities that received this seal include Harvard and Brown; Simpson College was the only other Iowa institution honored. This recognition was received because 57.7 percent of Drake students voted in the 2016 election. I have my fingers crossed and trust placed in Drake that we’ll see above-average numbers for the midterm elections as well.
I’ve seen the push to vote in Iowa firsthand through my job canvassing for a labor union, knocking on the doors of union members and encouraging them to vote. For every person who says they’re not sure if they will vote this year, I grow a little disheartened, but I know the work I do is still valuable and the slightest thing can make a difference. You may have received mailings or phone calls on behalf of political campaigns or heard from organizations dedicated to boosting voter turnout such as Rock the Vote – there are many efforts made in Iowa to urge eligible voters to cast their ballots.
There are four requirements for voter registration in Iowa. You must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old by election day, not registered to vote in any other state and not incarcerated, on parole or owe any outstanding monetary obligations from a felony conviction. If you don’t know if you are registered, you can check your status on the Iowa Secretary of State website.
If you fit all these requirements, I strongly encourage you to either register by absentee ballot or online – both these methods have a deadline of Oct. 27 – or go out on election day. You can both register and cast your vote for the midterm elections on Nov. 6.
One deterrent from voting is the existence of ‘voter suppression’ laws or laws that make it exceedingly difficult or impossible for a citizen to cast their vote. There are strict felon disenfranchisement laws out there which have been observed to disproportionately affect minorities and impact their voting. The inconvenience of photo ID laws also makes some citizens decide they’d rather just stay at home. Some politicians may help work towards the elimination of voter suppression laws, but they have been the status quo for so long it is worrisome. I feel America as a whole could do more to make it easier for citizens to vote.
Another major cause behind so many citizens’ lack of votes or voter registration is the belief that their votes won’t make a difference. I reject this belief. Only a little over half of eligible Americans voted in 2016; there is a whole 44.3 percent of potential votes that were lost and even a fraction of those could have made a big difference.
I hope we see these efforts to boost voter turnout reflected in the midterm elections. Regardless of the party, you identify with, I urge you to exercise your right to vote. Make your voice heard this November and in the elections held onwards.
ILLUSTRATION BY LASHA STEWART