When the New York State primaries are held next Tuesday, presumably at least 5,694 of Cornell’s 21,904 students – those who live in New York permanently – will be eligible to vote. But, if we consider that only 19.5 percent of the voter eligible population submitted ballots in New York in the 2008 primaries (the last time both parties had contested races for the presidential nomination), this means only 1,110 of the New Yorkers on campus will be voting next Tuesday or mailing in their absentee ballots beforehand. I am sure that we have all been told before that it is our ‘civic duty’ to vote or that we must exercise our “democratic right” by participating in elections. However, this does not help us overcome the collective action problem that plagues our voting system, or deter many voters from thinking that their individual vote will not make a real difference (especially if they live in a state that nearly always goes blue or red). So, I am here to give you three more concrete reasons why you should make it a priority to vote, beginning with this year’s primary election season.
First, young voters (between the ages of 18-29) are the least likely to turn out to vote, making us the least represented age group of voters. In the 2012 election, for example, 45.0 percent of 18-29 year olds voted; this means of Cornell’s 17,304 domestic students, only 7,786 would have voted in this election. Meanwhile, 59.5 percent of 30-44 year olds, 67.9 percent of 45-64 year olds and 72.0 percent of those 65 and older voted in the same election. And, this trend persists over the past several decades, meaning that candidates can rightly assume our age group is going to turn out in lower numbers. Therefore, these candidates can, and do, safely choose to address fewer issues important to our age group, instead focusing on issues that more directly affect age groups that are likely to vote (such as social security). And yet, many would say that people of our age are the most idealistic, the most inspired and the most likely to change the world – why, then, do we insist on limiting our voice by voting in significantly lower numbers?
A second important reason that students should vote is that, on the aggregate, our voting group certainly has a large impact on the outcome of elections. The Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that in 2012, the youth votes that Barack Obama accrued in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio were crucial to his victories in those states. In all four, he earned at least 61 percent of the vote, but if Mitt Romney had been able to win just half of the youth vote in any of these four, he could have claimed the entire state. While this might again lead us to a collective action problem among younger voters (assuming that your peers will vote and therefore not doing so yourself), it certainly shows that the outcome is more directly related to our individual votes than when you consider all age groups combined. To counteract the collective action problem, however, make a point of voting in the next election and many of your friends might also feel inclined to do the same (people are easily swayed by social leaders, after all). This, in turn, will contribute to the aggregate youth vote that can make or break an election for a presidential candidate.
Lastly, while it is true that a state’s delegates are not going to be decided with a margin of one vote in a primary election, your votes down the ballot can have a much more significant impact. Many people overlook local elections as unimportant, but they can actually have a more direct impact on your life than the outcome of a national election might. And there are numerous examples throughout history of local elections being decided by only a few votes. In fact, in 1994, two candidates for the Wyoming House of Representatives were declared to have tied the election, each with 1,941 votes. And, this is just one such example. The primary elections for local elections – voting on members of your town committee, for example – might not seem to be motivation to hit the polls. But, if you consider how your vote can actually make a significant difference in these smaller elections, you might feel more inspired by how our democratic process works on every level of government.
And, if these reasons are not enough to encourage you to participate in the election this year – whether you’re voting in the New York primaries or not – just remember that you also get a free sticker for your effort.
Emily McEvoy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Government and minoring in Communications. When not writing her column for The Daily Sun or enthusiastically catching up on the newest political scandal, she can be found outside running or playing soccer. The McEvoy Minute appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. You can reach Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.