October 13, 2010

With Prelims Over, Midterms Have Just Begun

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After a long journey back to campus Tuesday night that involved oversleeping my ride and having to direct a bus driver through Ithaca, I was elated to find an important envelope waiting for me in my mailbox: my absentee ballot. Evidently my enthusiasm is shared by few on campus; despite a concerted effort by the Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans to register student voters and a spot-on Sun editorial, experts are predicting low youth voter turnout. Taking it upon myself to find out why this is the case, I informally went door-to-door in my fraternity house and asked my brothers why they weren’t voting. Since there is still time to apply for an absentee ballot, I want to focus on some of the most common answers I was given and debunk some of the biggest misconceptions regarding voting by absentee in an effort to rock the Cornell vote before this key midterm election.

Misconception #1: My vote doesn’t count. I can answer this with a personal anecdote. My first election by absentee, the 2009 Nassau County, N.Y. election, went to a recount in which every single ballot was tallied. Out of almost 250,000 ballots counted, the election was decided by 390 votes in favor of the Republican challenger. After the initial tally on Election Day, the incumbent Democrat had held a 237 vote lead. Absentee ballots decided the election and turned the tables. While most elections aren’t quite that close, it’s true that every vote counts. Consider how many students share the pessimistic outlook of not counting and envision the results of each of these students deciding to vote. Now that would really turn the tables on politics as usual.

Misconception #2: Voting by absentee is hard. Voting by absentee is so easy, a caveman could do it (sorry for the copyright infringement Geico). You just have to Google your county or state board of elections and print out an easy form. Alternatively, visit www.longdistancevoter.org. By clicking on your state, you will receive step by step instructions with a link to your form and whom to mail it to. And just like that, a ballot will be delivered to your mailbox. My only complaint is that postage is not included, but, as the woman at the Cornell Post Market pointed out, “Times are tough all around.” Forty-four cents is a small price to pay to participate in the democratic process.

Misconception #3: The candidates all seem the same. This just means you have to do a little homework. But given we get enough reading as it is (ILR = I love reading), this is not an intriguing proposition to many on campus. Thankfully, many non-partisan organizations produce voter’s guides that effectively and concisely summarize the positions of candidates and the issues at hand. Think of these tools as TakeNote for voting. For example, the League of Women Voters has an interactive site, www.smartvoter.org, that personalizes a guide for you based on location. Undoubtedly, with a little effort you will identify with some candidates more than others and find a reason to vote.

Misconception #4: It doesn’t matter.

Another anecdote: Midway through the summer, my fellow counselors at Day Camp in the Park and I received our first paychecks. Many of my co-counselors were confused, dejected and angry when the check amount was significantly lower than expected. I directed them to the pay stub, which detailed deductions for Medicaid, Social Security, Disability and general income tax that combined for almost 20 percent of our salaries. In other words, you pay for government services and operation with your taxes. You might as well do everything in your power to get what you pay for and express how you’d like your tax dollars to be spent. The political process affects you every time you make a purchase, drive a car or do just about anything in your daily routine.

The outcome of an election, particularly this one, will have a substantial effect on government policy. Cornell, for example, is a large beneficiary of state funding as New York’s land-grant institution. This funding could be at stake, which brings me to my final point on why this election matters: Despite their lack of sexiness or mass appeal, state and local elections actually affect you much more profoundly than do federal ones. Sure, Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino don’t quite energize youth like Barack Obama and don’t have rock star personalities, but whoever is elected Governor of New York will wield considerably more influence on your daily lives than the President. The Constitution delegates most matters of governance to states and local governments. While Washington deals with philosophical matters of gay marriage and the Iraq War, lawmakers in Albany determine the breath of social services and education funding.

It should be obvious by now that your vote matters. Voting is easier than it seems and has far-reaching repercussions for both you and the University. It’s unfortunately too late to register to vote in most states, but many of us took care of that in 12th-grade government class anyways (whether your motive was genuine or you were scoring brownie points with your teacher is irrelevant). Consider applying for an absentee ballot and making a difference in your community. If Cornell can Rock the Vote, it would send a message that our concerns need to be addressed and we are a force to be reckoned with not just at Lynah Rink but in the political arena as well.

Jon Weinberg is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at [email protected]. In Focus appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg