In light of election day, I want to talk about voting.
I’m going to preface this post with an encounter I had two years ago on election day. I was in the elevators at my office, when an older man asked if I had voted. I replied that, yes, I had indeed voted that day. He then went on to state that he bet that this was my first election that I had voted in.
I didn’t know what to say. I have voted almost every year since I turned 18. Not just during midterm elections or presidential elections. I vote every.single.year. And it struck me at this moment that not only was I an aberration among my own generation, but I was an oddity among older, “responsible” voters.
So I am a weirdo. So what, you might be thinking. Why does it matter? And why did this realization shock me? It is here that I think I will let my little brother take over and tell you why voting every year matters. Below is his personal statement (and personal experience) on voting:
I refreshed the Board of Election’s website for the third time in as many minutes to find, with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety, that the first returns were now published. Polls had closed twenty minutes prior, enough time to walk from the polling place at the Student Union to the planned victory party off campus. As I found the opening numbers, my bad feelings became justified, and the victory party started 100 votes down.
It was a tough campaign from the beginning. I was seeking a seat on the Party’s Central Committee, the governing body of the party. Usually uncontested, the March primary saw an “insurgency” attempt, a coup attempt for control of the Party in the city. Mirroring the national, Bernie v. Hillary storyline of fighting the establishment, the mayoral election saw the anointed City Council President face the County Sheriff for the seat vacated by the previous longtime Mayor. Although both were from the same party, the Party endorsed the City Council President. In response, the Sheriff’s team covertly enacted a plan to declare candidates right before the deadlines to get on the ballot for Central Committee seats across the county. Many times these seats have no candidates declare, forcing the Party to appoint office holders after the primary. Thus, if all worked according to plan, winning these seats would be an uncontested way to snatch power away from the establishment at City Hall. Per usual in politics, however, things did not go according to plan. City Hall caught wind, and almost every race for Central Committee, an office many voters had never heard of, became a battleground for County Politics.
The Sheriff convinced me to seek the seat representing the areas in and around the university’s campus. Shortly after I declared, another student declared his candidacy and was subsequently endorsed by the Party.
In down ticket races, especially in primaries, fighting the sample ballot is tough and turnout is expected to be low.
We had yard signs; we dropped campaign literature every weekend; we had huge fundraisers at the off campus bars. I knew every vote was going to count.
During a ‘souls to the polls’ bus event for early voters from the Student Union, student workers attempted to kick me off campus property, as they claimed I had no right to canvas on campus without being a registered student organization. My dad, ever my advocate, filed suit against the University on First Amendment grounds, arguing the University Regulations were unconstitutional. The University refused to budge on the policies, but granted me an informal guarantee to free conduct on campus, within reason, for the rest of my time as a student.
On Election Day, we were out at the polling place bright and early until polls closed, trying to talk to every voter on their way in to vote. My opponent was there as well, and we demonstrated the often-overlooked beauty of the American political system, where he said his positions and I mine, and we let the people make their own decisions. What was painfully obvious during those 13 hours was voter turnout. As the morning turned to night, I knew there just hadn’t been enough voters to overcome the sample ballot my opponent was handing out, the same that had been mailed to every democratic home and handed out to every early voter.
I started around 100 votes down and was never able to recover. With every refresh, a new precinct would be reported, and there were simply not enough votes. There were 705 ballots cast, 340 of which did not vote in my race. Out of a campus of over 60,000, with almost 10,000 registered voters, only 1,000 showed up to vote. When my victory party, now consisting of three friends and my father, called it for the night, I had lost by 23 votes, 193-170. Although I had heard it before, my dad’s recitation of the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote struck a particular chord that evening:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
As President Kennedy suggests in my tattered copy of Profiles in Courage, past acts of political courage did not originate “because they ‘loved the public better than themselves,” but rather “because they did love themselves—because each one’s need to maintain his own respect for himself was more important to him than his popularity with others—because his desire to win or maintain a reputation for integrity and courage was stronger than his desire to maintain his office—because his conscience, his personal standard of ethics, his integrity or morality…was stronger than the pressures of public disapproval.”
As we enter a new age in politics, marred with people taking the easy route instead of the right one, and with election victories seemingly more important than victories for the American people, political courage, and those willing to show it, must make a comeback. My hope is others will join me, and step into the arena.