Fall 2016: “Why Bother to Vote?” Middle School Winner Red Sheets

Read Red's essay, Your Voice, Your Vote," about how a vote isn't just for a person, but also for an idea, a policy, and, even, your integrity.

Red Sheets, a student of Liz Finin at Commodore Options School, Odyssey Multiage Program on Bainbridge Island, Wash., 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 Red’s post-election thoughts at the end of her essay.

Your Voice, Your Vote

My mom never lets me know who she’s voting for in the primaries. Voting can be—is—such a personal thing, which is why it’s no one’s place to tell you to vote (or not). So, I suppose I’m straying out of my lane by telling you that you should absolutely vote. It’s normal to try to convince people one way or another, isn’t it?

According to YES! Magazine’s article “5 Reasons to Vote Even When You Hate Everything on the Ballot” by Yessenia Funes, 65 percent of eligible voters are registered, and only 58 percent voted in the 2012 election. Why don’t people vote? Some cite personal reasons and others are barred from it. But there is one pervasive thought circulating among eligible voters, and it’s that your vote doesn’t matter. This idea that your ballot doesn’t count because other people will already determine the election is toxic. It perpetuates the notion that the system is rigged—that everyone needs to “open their eyes” to our corrupt government. To be fair, America is probably not the purest country in the world, but it is definitely far from the manipulative governments of countries like Russia. Conspiracy theorists may protest, but far-fetched theories have absolutely no place in a discussion of hard facts.

Facts do not lie. Politicians do. People who take every single word a politician says without a single grain of salt contribute to the problem—and they are known to believe in and broadcast false information everywhere. During this election, several print and electronic media outlets have also told us too many lies—one of those lies being that our votes don’t matter.

Your vote does matter, whether you choose to utilize it or not. Even if you hate everything on the ballot, there is a reason to vote. Voting is one of the most American things one can do. If you have that power, you should use it. If you don’t, and an unfit candidate comes into office, you have no right to complain, because you didn’t try to sway the election in any way.

Many people feel trapped in a red-versus-blue party system and don’t even think about other possibilities. On your ballot, there are hundreds of voting options. While many are from parties you’ve never heard of —and have no chance of winning due to the electoral college—they are still alternatives. Maybe you’ve never heard of Jill Stein or Gloria La Riva? If the Democrat and Republican nominees are unappealing, you might consider researching other candidates because the playing field is so much bigger than the media leads us to believe.

So you see the candidates listed on the ballot, and you still don’t like any of them? There are more options, like the write-in box. Third party and write-in candidates can heavily influence—and even change—the outcome of an election. But a vote doesn’t have to be just for a person. It can also be in support of an idea or a policy. Whether they’re duller than listening to a lecture or repulsively disrespectful, some candidates can be unpleasant. Their actions and policies, however, speak volumes. Some people only see the policy. Some people only see the person. The ability to weigh both is a vital skill for intelligent and responsible voting. Once you see both, your decision between candidates should be clear (or not). 

Seeing that we might have our first woman president or we might have our first president with no experience in office, there is a strong desire to vote among many Americans. Even though my mom never tells me who she’s voting for, this fall she showed me the filled-in box for president and told me that I’ll remember this election forever— that I’ll remember the urgent passion of the supporters on all sides and the impacts they’ve made. I sure hope that passion brings more people to the booths, because it truly doesn’t matter which candidate wins. The American public has a greater power than it realizes, and I have a feeling they will-–we will-–discover our capabilities and make our thoughts loud and clear. What matters are the voices of individuals and whether or not that voice is heard. Because, ultimately, real people and real feelings are more important than a polling statistic. 

Postscript: November 8th has come and passed, and the country exploded in its reaction when Donald Trump was voted the president-elect. When I looked up the number of people that voted this election, I was astonished. About fifty-eight percent of eligible Americans voted. That’s forty-two percent of the voting population sitting out. Over 90 million people in the 2016 election chose not to vote. 90 million. 90 million is more than the total population of the United Kingdom and Australia combined. That, to me, is terrifying. Those voters could have determined the election, but instead, they chose to sit this one out. My stance on this issue remains the same. If you have the power to, you should vote.

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