In the heat of the 2016 election, I was a junior in college. I was busy with homework, completing my study abroad application, and doing a laundry list of other things that seemed so important at the time. As a journalism major, my professors held me accountable for being aware and on top of the news, and during an election cycle, it's hard not to be constantly bombarded with headlines. I kept up with the candidates and did my best to inform myself of where each one stood on certain issues, but when it came down to actually voting, I didn't cast a ballot.
I had been told time and time again by my peers and even the media that one vote couldn't flip a state and that it ultimately comes down to the electoral college, so people's votes don't even matter in the broad scheme of things. These notions were ingrained into my mind until I ultimately felt defeated and that my vote seemed useless. Even with my education on the political system and my strong views for women's rights, racial equality, and affordable healthcare, I chose not to make my vote count. Looking back now, that was one of the worst things I could've done.
Being a straight white middle-class woman, the election — in my mind — did not seem like it would pose much of a threat to me and my own personal life. Back then, I recognised that presidents held a lot of power and made major decisions for the country, but I just assumed that whoever took office would be someone who made informed decisions based on what was best for the country and, more importantly, the people in it. I knew of the checks and balances in the government and put my trust in the Constitution to keep those in power accountable for their actions. To say that was naive is an understatement.
But the 2016 election was a critical moment for many immigrants, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community who were genuinely worried about their ability to thrive — or even live — in the US if Trump were to become president. For me not to recognise this, especially when I had the power to do something about it, was wrong and completely unacceptable. Just because I did not think that my own life would be personally affected by the person who took office (update: it has been — read: every way Trump has worked to hinder women's rights), I had a voice and I should have used it. Not voting at all was essentially giving a vote to Trump and letting my voice go silent. In doing so, I aided in taking away rights from countless immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, women, people of colour, and other marginalized people.
The increased voter suppression efforts we're seeing in the lead up to 2020 proves just how much some in power fear people seizing their own power at the ballot box.
Being told that my vote wouldn't make a difference was wrong, and I wish I had better educated myself on the matter before the election. Since the, I've learned the true power of our vote. While the electoral college might be a flawed system, each and every vote does indeed count —you can read more about that here. If anything, the increased voter suppression efforts we're seeing in the lead up to 2020 proves just how much some in power fear people seizing their own power at the ballot box.
I was curious to ask some of my close friends who didn't vote in the 2016 election, either, (who are also straight white middle-class women), how they feel about that decision in hindsight.
Jesse Garrett, a junior at UCLA at the time of the 2016 election, also chose not to vote. "I had issues with my registration being I was in LA and I was registered in OC, but my mother threw away my absentee ballot, and I wasn't sure how to go about it," she told POPSUGAR. "However, my main reason (which is completely my own fault and something I want to work on this year) is I did not feel I was educated enough on the majority of issues that I should be in any place to make the decision."
Being and feeling uneducated about a candidate's political stances is not uncommon. For some, it seems as though the issues are too complex, the policies are difficult to comprehend, or there's just too much out there to even attempt to learn it all. Luckily, taking time to look into issues that matter to you is a step in the right direction. From there, you can see what each candidate supports (or doesn't support) about the issues and make an informed decision.
Another reason why some registered voters didn't cast a ballot in the last election was because they didn't support either candidate. "I did not want either candidate, which was another excuse I used not to vote, but looking back, not voting was essentially me supporting Trump whom I fervently do not support," Garrett said. When you chose not to cast a ballot, your political party's slate in the electoral college has less of a chance of being represented, even if it is by only one vote.
Campbell McLeod, another registered voter and junior in college at the time of the election, had this to say about why she decided not to vote: "I did not have my sh*t together enough to have the discipline/urgency to actually show up, and on top of that, I think there wasn't enough awareness on where I could actually go to vote, and then [I] tried to figure out the mail-in ballot but was in my fourth apartment since living in the city and my driver's licence address hadn't been updated. So a lot of excuses, but also if there had been an easier, more communicated way to do it, I think that would get a lot more people to vote."
Being aware of when elections are, how to make sure you're registered to vote, and ultimately holding yourself accountable for your ballot are the most important things you can do as a voter. By casting a ballot, you will be able to speak up for the voiceless and be an ally to who need and deserve your support. Standing up for causes you believe in and electing officials who care about the people in this country will get us one step closer to achieving justice and liberty for all. This election year, I will make my vote count, and I hope you'll do the same.