Hogan is a senior law, politics and society major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
As you already know, or will soon discover, the Student Life Center is a hub of student services on Drake University’s campus. The first time I walked in, though, it wasn’t to get a new ID or retrieve a misplaced water bottle from the lost and found. It was to ask where I could get my Missouri absentee ballot notarized for the 2008 General Election.
Gloria notarized it for me then and there, and I dropped the envelope in the U.S. mail slot in Carpenter Hall. I had done it: voted for the first time ever. In addition to leaving home, beginning a new academic adventure and meeting new people, I was also now a member of the U.S. electorate. Watch out, adulthood! Now I just needed to figure out that 401(k) thing.
Fast-forward to November. I was in a Student Senate committee meeting in the Olmsted Center. I had been forced to tear myself away from election results coverage for the meeting, so when I heard voices and applause by the coffee shop, I knew something had happened. A few of us ran over from our spot by Pomerantz Stage to find that the election had been called. Then-Senator Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. I felt privileged to be a very small part of the process. My hope is that other students can have a similarly enriching experience.
This summer, Mohammed Morsi was sworn in as Egypt’s first freely elected president. The Arab Spring demonstrates just how much people will sacrifice in the name of freedom. While some rhetoricians will tell you that democracy is being held hostage by the media or political scandal, I still believe we are extremely fortunate. Whether I vote for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul or write in my cat’s name, I can do so without fear of persecution.
I’m not asking you to vote for a certain candidate or even demanding that you vote at all. I’m just asking you to consider it. I am excited to be at Drake during another presidential election, but if you graduate in four years, you will only be here for this one. I just want to encourage you to make the most of it.
To help you choose whether or not to vote in this election, I’ve responded to some of the most common reasons young Americans offer for not voting.
“I don’t care about politics.”
I don’t expect everyone to be interested in politics. It’s messy, complicated and often uncivil, right? But, government touches each of our lives in some way. Are you going to become an actuary or a pharmacist? The Securities and Exchange Commission sets regulations for insurance, mortgages and stock trading. The Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies regulate prescription drugs, medical patents and patients’ rights.
While we don’t directly elect the chair of the SEC or the Secretary of HHS, we do elect members who set policy agendas. So, I like to think of voting as being about government rather than politics.
“I don’t want to make an uneducated decision.”
I’ll be honest. For all of the time I’ve spent studying politics, I am still terrified of making the wrong decision. But all any of us can do is identify what we care about or define our fundamental view of government, research the candidates, and make the best choice we can.
Also: Talk to people. This doesn’t mean you have to vote for the same candidate as your roommate or your parents. Communicating with peers, co-workers and people in your network broadens your perspective and reinforces to value of a democratic society. We all know the Drake Mission Statement and having respectful dialogue with others contributes to your development as an engaged citizen.
“My vote doesn’t matter.”
I know it seems like politics is all tied up in fundraising, advertising and endorsements. But, at the end of the day, they will tally up the ballots you and I complete. (We’ll save the discussion on the Electoral Process and election of the president and vice president for now.) Don’t like any of the candidates? Write in the person you think can best do the job. The minute everyone stops caring is when, I think, we begin compromising the legitimacy of our democracy.
“I don’t know how to register or get an absentee ballot.”
If you do decide to vote and are not a native Iowan, you’ll need to decide whether you want to register to vote in Iowa or obtain an absentee ballot from your home state. The one-page form to register in Iowa just serves as confirmation that you are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age by election day, and live in Iowa.
If you’d rather vote in your home state you can request an absentee ballot, which will be mailed to you to complete and return by mail. Each state, including Iowa, has a webpage for the secretary of state and most have a printable copy of an absentee ballot request form available.
“I never vote. Why start now?”
I’m a big advocate of cost-benefit analysis and it seems that voting is an easy way to contribute to our society at low personal cost. Plus, I bet you’ve voted for something in your life at some point: class president, school competitions or American Idol. But, since it’s college, it’s appropriate to begin engaging with the so-called real world, and voting is an easy place to start.
Maybe this didn’t convince you. And, that’s okay. Unlike Australia, Brazil and Thailand, to name a few, the U.S. doesn’t have any mandatory voting laws. But I think you might find it rewarding and I know that I will be voting on November 6. Will you?