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  • Divya Vydhianathan

March Madness? More like Midterm Madness


A disease has plagued the nation for ages, and I am not talking about COVID-19. I’m talking about voter apathy. One receives this political diagnosis if suffering from a persistent lack of interest in participating in elections. Symptoms of voter apathy include but are not limited to: feelings of alienation from the effectiveness of our current political system and voter fatigue due to frequent candidate elections. Side effects include low voter turnout on election day.


The statistics for American voters have not been too bright in the past. Only 55.7% of eligible voters showed up to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, meaning that 100 million eligible voters did not. Even worse was that in 2018, where 120 million eligible voters did not participate in the midterm election. As the November 8th midterm election approaches, I am actively discouraging you from participating in voter apathy. Voting this year is more important than you think.


Voter Apathy: What it is and Why it Harms Americans

Voter apathy often gets used as an umbrella term, including more individuals than it should. While it sometimes accurately describes people uninterested in voting, it belittles those facing systemic barriers to civic engagement. Those who are genuinely apathetic about voting in elections suffer from symptoms of laziness. They could not be bothered to research candidates, go to the polls, and vote since it takes time away from daily responsibilities with only a sticker for incentive. These people may even be discouraged from mail-in ballots because of the time it takes to complete the paperwork.


The second group of people who fall under voter apathy truly wants to stay informed about politics and vote. Unfortunately, they are discouraged or stopped by over 200 years of purposeful voter suppression. Suppression manifests itself in several preventative procedures, such as partisan gerrymandering (where electoral races always favor one political party over another), redlining, and frequent redistricting. These actions make the political races biased toward those privileged enough to live in affluent areas with easy access to polling stations. These disruptions often come from politicians, political institutions, and the electoral process.


Other inconveniences for voting include minimal civics education in schools, voter ID restrictions, polling times incompatible with work and school schedules, sudden changes in polling locations, and underprepared election boards. In Georgia for the 2020 presidential election, some voters waited in line for 11 hours to cast their ballot because of voting restrictions in predominantly black neighborhoods. Meanwhile, there were just six minutes of polling wait time within primarily white neighborhoods. When these institutions gatekeep who participates freely in the electoral process, it is no surprise that the voters most disenfranchised by these changes lose trust in the system. Even though they are genuinely trapped due to systemic barriers, the blame shifts to this second group of people for not voting.


Using Democratic Privilege to Help the Underdogs

For this midterm election, you should go to your nearest polling center or mail-in ballot box on November 8th. Our democracy can be frustrating, but that is because we haven’t maintained its founding ideals that technically should apply to everyone. The foundation of our democracy is “One man, One vote” (one person, one vote). Yet, older people with high incomes primarily comprise the demographic of consistent voters. If you are old enough to vote with no voter ID barriers, it is your duty to exercise your privilege and vote. It seems counterintuitive to complain that the system doesn’t work if you don’t spend at least a little time sharing your concerns. At maximum, it takes 1-2 hours to research who is running for office and decide which candidate to vote for. If all citizens eligible to vote in this upcoming election vote this year, we can collectively make policy changes that make voting more accessible to disenfranchised groups.


Your individual vote matters more than you think. In some rare instances in history, a single popular vote changed the entire outcome of the political race. For example, a Democratic candidate won in the 1910 New York 36th Congressional District election with 20,685 votes, while his Republican opponent drew 20,684. You may be thinking, “But this is just a local race, it won’t happen on the federal level!” To that, I say anything is possible. Local elections are equally, if not more important, than federal elections since local politicians directly impact your daily affairs, like your neighborhood and school funding. Voting for the right people and regular community engagement is crucial to make long-term change. If enough people make electoral races razor-thin at the local level, that competition will eventually reach federal elections.


Voting can seem daunting, especially when the system feels stacked against minorities and low-income individuals. When we all overcome the information gap through quick internet searches and improving civic education, voting becomes more accessible and a meritable option for citizens. Entering the hurricane of midterm madness will eventually bring one to the eye of the storm: civically engaged citizens who actually know and have an influence on their representatives.


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