November 3, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | There’s No Excuse

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A long, contentious, and exhausting election has finally come to a close. Yet, this is the point where your part actually counts. When millions of Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, they’ll be charting our nation’s course for the next four years. Make sure you’re one of them.

That’s the simple point of this column: I’m asking you to vote, and telling you why should. My audience is specific: the large community of Cornell students who are registered to vote right here in Ithaca. Certainly, many of these arguments apply to those who are registered elsewhere, and I strongly encourage everyone to submit an absentee ballot. It’s too important to let distance be a factor. However, I want to return to those of us who have the chance to vote in person here in Ithaca.

First, let’s note that our representative democracy relies on voter participation. Low voter turnout leads to election results that do not fully reflect the will of the people. Unfortunately, one of the demographic groups that is particularly vulnerable to this self-destructive apathy is college students. For whatever reason, at this formative period in our lives, many of us choose to surrender the opportunity to guide America’s future. This is unacceptable. It may be a cliché to invoke the historical denial of the franchise, but it’s true. We should all be thankful for the ancestors and trailblazers who have guaranteed universal suffrage. And we should honor them by exercising this right.

Still, even if you agree on principle that voting is crucial, you may still wonder if it has an impact here in New York. The answer is that it certainly does.

I’ll start with the big race. Yes, your vote in the presidential election absolutely matters. Trump has rampaged across the country for 18 months, spreading his message of hate and fear to each place he ventures. It’s time for the country to decide whether to reject or accept his bigotry. And in the final stretch, the race has tightened. National polling now shows that Clinton has a small, and shrinking lead over Trump. There are legitimate concerns that there could be a split between the national popular vote and the electoral college, as occurred in 2000.

I want to be completely candid and honest. Hillary Clinton will win New York by an extremely comfortable margin. But with a candidate as abnormal and dangerous as Donald Trump, we need to deliver him a crushing defeat. A narrow Clinton win might lend credence to Trump’s absurd claims of election fraud, and it could also signal to politicians that his brand of demagoguery remains potentially viable. Every vote, including yours, serves to demonstrate that America will never succumb to Trump’s dark vision. We should also not forget that each vote for Hillary Clinton will play a part in shattering the glass ceiling that has persisted since the country’s founding.

Nonetheless, this is about so much more than sending a message. It also involves the practical fact that Trump’s rise has been enabled by people within his own party. One such figure is Ithaca’s current Congressman, Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). He was one of the very first members of Congress to endorse Trump, and he has stood by him through every one of Trump’s outrageous slurs. And it goes far beyond that. Rep. Reed has previously chosen to actively attack Ithaca as a community of “extreme liberals,” and he has assailed Cornell for a culture of “out of control political correctness.” Reed’s favored culture, apparently, is one that denigrates immigrants, mocks the disabled and normalizes sexual assault against women.

We can do so much better. Fortunately, we have that option. Capt. John Plumb has stood up as the Democratic nominee to challenge Tom Reed. With a long record of public service, including in the military, Plumb has demonstrated his commitment to our country. The fact that Rep. Reed is a terrible choice should not obscure the fact that Plumb is a great one. His priorities, including college affordability and reducing the impact of money in politics, are a close match to the concerns that I hear from Cornell students.

I won’t stop there. You want someone else to vote for? Take Leslie Danks Burke, the Democratic candidate for State Senate. She’s been with us every step of the way of this campaign, listening to and supporting students. A wide range of the problems that directly affect our everyday lives-and shape the Ithaca community that we all call home-are decided by politicians at the state level. The battle for an effective and ethical government does not take place merely in the arena of Washington, but also in state capitals across the country, such as Albany. We should seize every chance to ensure that all of our representatives are fighting for us, and we can begin by electing candidates like Leslie Danks Burke and John Plumb.

Both of these races are highly competitive, and student turnout could easily alter the outcome. If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: your vote, as a Cornellian, absolutely matters. You no longer have the luxury of ignoring this responsibility. Voting is an obligation that you have to your country, your classmates, your community and yourself.

I am fortunate and inspired to see that so many of us take this so seriously. There is widespread enthusiasm on our campus, and we’re prepared to spread the word. We have a group of dedicated volunteers to make sure everyone knows their polling place. We’re going to make sure that people have rides to their polling places. Most of all, we’re going to personally reach out to you. On election day, neither ignorance nor inability will be an excuse.

After all, there’s no do-over. When the polls close at 9 p.m. on November 8, that’s it. That’s the government we’ll have. In light of that reality, I ask you to take the chance to give this gift to yourself. By voting, you can assure your own conscience that you did what you could. You’ll have begun a lifetime commitment to civic responsibility. And you’ll have showcased the electoral power of the Cornell community. Cornellians have never shied away from a challenge, and this should be no different. At a critical moment in history, we should all make sure that we stand up for the country we believe in.

Vote.

Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at krk78@cornell.edu. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.