November 4, 2018

GROSKAUFMANIS | Electing to Show Up

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The first election I ever voted in was a down-ballot wipeout, at least with respect to the people I was voting for.  My introduction to the democratic process was coupled with my introduction to large-scale electoral loss, and like many others, it was a loss that I didn’t see coming.

I remember exactly how I felt on the morning of November 9, 2016: dejected, blind-sided, stupid.  (Also cold, because the weather that day in Ithaca was rainy and dramatic.) Before election day, I had listened to one too many episodes of the FiveThirtyEight elections podcast, interpreting their analysis to mean that there wasn’t much to worry about, so I didn’t.  The lead up to the 2016 election, at least for myself, was a lot of preemptive, unearned celebration of a victory that never came to fruition.

Fortunately, the follow up, from a few days after onwards, has been a better understanding of how important it is for all of us to actually show up.  As the age group that consistently has the most abysmal turnout rates, a lot of people are writing us off and expecting us to stay home on election day. I think we should, and need to, prove them wrong.

The voting process here in the U.S. is deeply flawed, and it feels strange to encourage participation in a flawed system as a remedy for its brokenness.  You wouldn’t tell someone to drive a car with broken brakes in order to fix it, but here I am encouraging engagement in a system of voting that is host to strategic voter suppression and suffers from incomparably low voter turnout from those who are eligible to vote.

But there’s complication bundled up in voting that no broken-brakes metaphor can really capture.  For instance, in some states there are initiatives on the ballot that could potentially restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of citizens who have been disenfranchised.  In these places, voting itself is a means of potentially expanding voting rights to others.  I’m wary of the “be a voice for other people” trope, but in this particular instance, voting is a perfect opportunity to hand someone else the microphone.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people who don’t plan to vote, from all walks of life and all ends of the political spectrum.  I’ve talked to friends who missed the registration deadline, people who are registered but on the fence about showing up, and some people who think it is a moral act of “civil disobedience” to abstain from voting. On Saturday I went door to door canvassing in a nearby district and talked to some people who clearly had 1,000 things on their mind that came before election day.  In some ways, I get that.

But at the same time, our electoral politics right now are particularly urgent.  In the fall of 2018, about 50 million students were enrolled in public schools nationwide, and were subject to curriculum and funding that was shaped by the public officials we elected.  We don’t have time to sit on our hands and hope for the best every two years.  In the time that spans between elections, second graders become fourth graders, middle schoolers become high schoolers, and college students become graduates.  Between every election cycle we endure the consequences, positive or negative, created by the those we elect.  So it goes without saying that it is important for us to show up because, if we don’t, we surrender that small but important piece of control that we’ve been given.

Vote like the race is tied and you will be the determining vote, even if your candidate is predicted to win by a landslide or be bulldozed by their opponent.  Vote like the candidates are radically different, even if one is only marginally better in your opinion. Vote with urgency, because these appointments are urgent and their decisions are consequential whether you’re a staunch party loyalist or largely apolitical.

I hope if you’re registered to vote, you show up tomorrow and that, if you’re not registered to vote, you show up in the next election.  In the interim, I hope that all of us show up a bit more for one another, because if the events of the last few weeks, and of the last two years, have shown us anything, it’s the polar opposites of destructive danger and positive potential that exist in tension at this political moment.

Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Dissent runs every other Monday this semester. She can be reached at jgroskaufmanis@cornellsun.com