April 22, 2024

ROJAS | Voting is a Privilege: Don’t Waste It (And Why I’m Voting for Biden)

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On a Thursday evening about a month ago, I got a call from a random number with a New York area code. I don’t usually pick up random calls, but I picked up this one as if it was an important caller. Expecting to hear a monotone robot, I was surprised to be connected to an actual person on the other end. The kind voice of then-Cayuga Heights Mayoral candidate Melanie McMurry greeted me, reminding me to show up on Tuesday, March 19, for Cayuga Heights’ mayoral election, to which I responded, “Wait, there’s an election on Tuesday?”

I consider myself politically active and was upset when I realized I almost missed a local election. I felt like a hypocrite, always telling my friends they should vote while nearly not voting myself because I wasn’t aware. 

It’s okay to know only some information about all the elections around you. However, I wanted to get to the root of why I truly was so upset at myself — voting is a privilege, and I cannot understand why people would abstain from it on any basis, given that they are allowed to vote. When I realized had I not gotten that call, I would not have known about the upcoming local election and likely not voted, it was a reminder to check my privilege and educate myself, and now I’m on the last step, educating others. 

It’s okay to not understand everything. A lot of voting-related practices vary by state. When I moved, I changed my voting registration from my home state of California to New York. This alone was a confusing process I wish I knew more about, but it’s something college students can do. Vote.gov provides a helpful overview of your voting options as a college student living between two states. You can only vote in one, but you can choose. Vote 411 is valuable for checking voter registration and creating a voting plan. You can enter your address to find out where you can vote, when the next elections are, who will be on the issues, and more. Make use of tools such as Cornell Votes; there’s nothing wrong with asking questions because the chances are someone will be more than happy to answer. Anything to increase awareness and engagement around the importance of voting is vital. Tompkins County, for example, started holding a design contest last year for election stickers to increase voter turnout. That’s why Tompkins County voters currently receive a cute cat “I Voted” sticker (they are holding the contest again this year). However, using a lack of understanding, specifically ignorance, as an excuse to not vote is unacceptable. 

Voting should be a right in an ideal world. However, it isn’t; it’s a privilege due to systemic barriers. In the case with non-citizens (including permanent legal residents), they cannot vote in federal, state or local elections. Depending on the state, felons can be barred from voting indefinitely or for specific periods. Depending on the state, some people with mental disabilities may also be barred from voting if a judge decides someone does not meet Voter Competence Requirements. Plus, US citizens residing in US territories cannot vote for the president in the general election. 

Those are just the “official” barriers, which don’t include the directly spoken ways voting rights tend to be undermined across the country. The Carnegie Corporation of NY laid out 11 common barriers to voting: voter ID requirements, lack of language access, voter roll purges, polling place closures/consolidations, lack of funding for elections, provisional ballot requirements, reduced early voting, reduced voting hours, poorly trained poll workers, partisan election administrators and officials creating at-large local offices to dilute the minority vote. 

I voted for the second time on March 19, doing as much prior research as possible, starting with a sample ballot. I say all this with a grain of salt; I am still learning the ropes of democracy. However, if you have the privilege to vote, you must do it. Plenty of debates are ongoing about the upcoming presidential election, how it’s essentially a redo of the last election, and how people are considering not voting at all as a statement. I understand the sentiment and the frustration, but not voting out of anger will only move us backward, as it did in 2016. Many people didn’t like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and abstained, assuming that Trump couldn’t win anyway. We all know that didn’t happen. This year, as most years, there’s also a third-party option, but America is deeply entrenched in a two-party system where a third-party candidate likely won’t win. 

Personally, I am terrified this will happen again. This conversation has reached a breaking point where it feels almost impossible to talk about the importance of voting and the world’s current political climate. A few months ago, fellow Sun columnist Leo Glasgow wrote how Trump is coming back and his reasons for voting for Trump. I am not voting for Trump, and I would say that contrary to Glasgow’s opinion, Trump is an extremist. 

However, I agree that Trump may be coming back. ABC News’ Project 538 already has some early polls showing Trump ahead of Biden. I fear that abstaining from voting altogether or choosing a third party candidate will lead to Trump’s winning again. Groups like The Heritage Foundation are already compiling comprehensive plans for Trump’s next term, also known as Project 2025. If implemented, Project 2025 “will cement America as a right wing authoritarian state.” The 920-page manifesto includes promises like deleting DEI and sexual/gender identity terms, terms regarding reproductive rights, and “any other term used to deprive Americans of their First Amendment rights.” Anyone who is already marginalized and deprived of privilege is even more screwed under Trump than under Biden from a comparative perspective.

I’m voting for Joe Biden. I am pissed that this is the first presidential election I get the opportunity to vote in, and my options are two old white men that don’t represent my beliefs. I thought Joe Biden was the “fool-proof” option — I, along with many, have begun to ask the same question New York Times Opinion Columnist Nicholas Kristof asked: “what happened to the Joe Biden I knew?”  Biden’s blanket support for Israel contradicts his compassionate urgency he indicated in previous years. I’m not excited to vote anymore. I’m angry and scared, but I know I have to because voting is a privilege I have. I’m terrified of living in a world where my existence, as well as many of those I love, is a violation of societal code. 

One of the main reasons I’m voting, even if it’s a vote I’m not thrilled to cast, is for those who can’t. People who use government resources, especially non-citizens of any kind, have no say in the policies and the people who represent them. As the daughter of an immigrant, it’s stupid to not use my privilege as an American-born citizen to vote. One day, I’ll be able to vote with the utmost confidence for the candidates I’ve chosen. In the meantime, I will continue to educate myself and others, voting for those who can’t. You should do so as well. One day, we should all be able to vote and feel seen in our candidates. Until then, use your privilege wisely. 

Daniela Rojas (she/her/ella) is a third-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her column Anything but MunDANIties runs periodically throughout the semester. She can be reached at [email protected].

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