Fall 2016: “Why Bother to Vote?” High School Winner Catherine Skubiz

Read Catherine's essay, "Make a Choice," about how time and time again voters have proven that when we make the choice to vote, we give ourselves the power to change the nation.

Catherine Skubiz, a student of Janet DePasquale at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, “5 Reasons to Vote Even When You Hate Everything on the Ballot.”

In this article, journalist and millennial Yessenia Funes shares her opinion on why it’s important to vote—even if you hate everything on the ballot. Funes points out what’s at stake, especially for those groups who vote the least, and options if you are dissatisfied with the slate of candidates.

Writing Prompt: Is not voting a responsible option in a presidential election? Weigh in with your argument.

NOTE: This essay was written before the Nov. 8 election. Please read Catherine’s post-election thoughts at the end of her essay.

Make a Choice

During the 2008 presidential election, my father brought me with him to the polls. We walked into a large gymnasium and scattered about were voting booths draped in soft, black fabric. I excitedly followed my father into a booth, gazing in wonder at the small screen with the names of the candidates. The faint glow emanating from the screen provided the only light; the black curtain shielded us from the world outside. My eight-year-old eyes watched my father in awe, his finger poised to highlight John McCain’s name on the white screen. I felt a twinge of jealousy that I still had ten more years until I could vote.

The right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, the acknowledgement that every single citizen has a voice that can and should be expressed. A vote is more than the election itself; a vote represents the ability to choose. The failure to vote is the surrendering of our ability to choose; it is the rendering of oneself vulnerable to and dependent on the actions and choices of others. Only by voting can the American population continue to corroborate its freedom.

The ability to choose—regardless of the quality or quantity of possible choices—exists within us. Regardless of how unappealing the candidates’ policies or character, the voters still have a choice between them. Everyone always has a choice, even if it’s a difficult one.

Some people argue that not voting is a vote—that by refusing to take part, they are voting against the system. But when all of the votes are counted, the “not votes” don’t show up. Voting is the phone line from Americans to their leaders.Voters who chose to stay home may have been screaming with anger and resentment about their choices, but the nation never heard. Not voting is the taking of the proverbial rock, and rather than placing it in the basket, throwing it far out into the rushing river where it’s lost and forgotten, swept away by the raging current of apathy and ignorance. The “not vote” sulks in the shadows, failing to comprehend why nobody can see it or hear its voice.

Voting is a census that only counts citizens with power. When the suffragists fought for the right to vote, they fought for the right to matter. They fought for their right to scream and be heard. They fought for their right to be truly free. Yessenia Funes quotes Linda Sarsour in her YES! Magazine article, “5 Reasons to Vote Even When You Hate Everything on the Ballot.” “If voting didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying to take your right to vote away from you.” Voting matters, because today as more states pass voter identification laws, these states attempt to choke and silence the voices of the underprivileged— dehumanizing and devaluing them. Voting matters, because as I remain excited to vote for the first time in 2020, I remember that had I been born a century earlier, I, along with every other woman in America, would be voting for the first time. Imagine a woman gazing down at her ballot, her eight-year-old daughter watching in awe as her mother exercises her power for the first time.

In 2008, as I followed my father into the voting booth, millions of African Americans, previously disillusioned by a seemingly disinterested government, turned out to vote for Barack Obama, who shined as a beacon of change. These voters felt powerless, forgotten, and ignored until Obama specifically turned to them and promised change. Suddenly they felt powerful, propelling Obama to the presidency. In this year’s election, as with every election, we have a choice. In 2008, as my eight-year-old eyes gazed in awe at the faint glow emanating from the screen, African American voters proved that when we make the choice to vote, we give ourselves the power to change the nation.

Postscript: Just as Barack Obama inspired many African Americans to vote in 2008, Donald Trump spoke to the white working class this election. Trump’s victory doesn’t alter the ideas in my essay; it reinforces them. The turnout of the white working class illustrates again the power of the vote, which voters will hopefully understand in 2020.

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