The Story of a Voting Non-Voter
Why you should vote and how to do it
Written by Cael Shaw and Sebastián Canales
It comes every fall. I wake up to look at my phone, just to see an endless stream of data, speeches and maps. I see ads all over the news while I eat my breakfast and run on the treadmill at the rec center. I hear all of the same information on the radio on my way to school and I ask myself, “Why is Election Day such a big deal?” My internal thought is interrupted by a loud thud as I hit multiple potholes. I remember learning about voting in my high school government class, but it seems like such a hassle, even a waste of time. I feel as if my vote doesn’t matter. Besides, the candidates suck. Later on, I find myself thinking about it again — politics don’t even affect me. Red state, blue state, purple state, who cares? My life doesn’t change based on who is in office. Or so I thought.
On my way to class, I walk past a table in the Student Center and I am asked if I am a registered voter. I scoff and inform them that I am not. As I am walking away, I hear them yell, “The Ohio voter registration deadline is October 11th!” Later that day, I am sitting outside, eating my lunch, when a couple of students walk up to me and ask if I am a registered voter. I tell them that I am not, but the students don’t leave. “Are you open to a discussion about it?” they ask me. My goal is for them to leave me alone, but I indulge them a little. In our discussion they had a valid counterargument for every reason why I don’t vote.
I had no idea that the government played such a pivotal role in our lives.
When I told them that I don’t have the time, they told me that early voting in Ohio starts Oct. 12 and ends Nov. 7. I told them that I don’t know where to vote, and they showed me how simple it is to look up my city, ward and precinct on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website. I told them that I’m not sure if I can make it to the polls, and they assured me that I can ask for an absentee ballot on the Board of Elections website. They explained to me that an absentee ballot is a mailed ballot that you can fill out at home before sending it back. I tell them that it has no effect on me, so why should it matter? They explained to me that the government has a lasting impact on our day-to-day lives. Did you know that the potholes I hit on my way to school can be fixed if I come out and vote? I didn’t. Did you know that my drinking water is safe because of the people we vote for? Did you know that our food and medications are safe because of who we vote for? I didn’t, and these issues are just the beginning. I had no idea that the government played such a pivotal role in our lives.
So I ask them why I should vote, and if my individual vote even matters.. They explain to me that several U.S. Presidents were elected to office by just 1 electoral college vote. They tell me that President George W. Bush won the state of Florida — and subsequently the election — by a mere 500 votes. A 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota saw the victor, Senator Al Franken, winning by just 200 votes. On a local scale, a county-level official in Nevada won their election by not 50, not 25, but 3 votes! Any election can come down to the wire: a small handful of votes can be the defining factor. I didn't know any of this, and now I don't know if I have an excuse to not vote.
A couple weeks go by and elections are approaching. Do I give in to the pressure and register to vote? Everything that people have been saying to me keeps ringing out in my head. After hours upon hours of thought I had an epiphany: I am going to register to vote! I go to olvr.ohiosos.gov, the Ohio Secretary of State website, to get the process started. Little did I know that it took only 6 steps and a grand total of about 6 minutes to become a registered voter!
My message to you is this: there is no doubt that among some of the busiest people in America are college students.
The only thing better than a voter is an educated and informed voter. I use the resources available to me from my conversations with those pesky, yet persistent, political science majors. I use websites like vote411.org and ballotpedia.org to find my sample ballot. I put in my address and these websites pull up the ballot measures, issues and candidates that I will be voting on in November. Next, I find all the information that I can about each candidate through their campaign websites and other sources, like factcheck.org or congress.gov. This way, I can make an informed decision on who I am voting for on Election Day. I want to pick the candidate that I feel best represents my views and opinions.
The next step is to wait. I have about 28 days until Election Day, so I continue to educate myself on the issues and candidates that will be on my ballot on November the 8th. It is during this time that I realize that I prefer one candidate over the other, and I’m surprised when I pick the candidate I didn’t originally like. It is also during this waiting period that I research what I will need to bring with me when I head to the polls to vote. I learned that all I need is a valid form of government ID, which could be a military ID, my Ohio driver’s license, or my passport. I could also use a recent utility bill with my address on it.
You and I can do great things with just our one vote.
In my efforts to become an informed voter, I hear a story from a fellow CSU Viking from when they were 5 years old and they went with their dad to the polls. They remember the energy and excitement surrounding the 2008 election — everyone was excited to be a part of the election process that put our nation’s first Black president in office. They tell me that, from that day forward, they were always up to date on the latest news coming out of Washington, D.C. and across the country. They are proud to vote in each and every election they can, from primaries to the general election. “It was my civic duty,” they tell me. They share with me the story of when they worked as a poll worker and an older gentleman from North Africa approached them, excited to show off his new American citizenship and voter registration. The gentleman broke down into tears looking at his citizenship documentation, letting everyone at the voting precinct know that he was proud to be there.
I want my voting triumph story. I want to be proud of myself for fulfilling my civic duty and making a difference in my little section of the world. I want to feel as confident and as proud as that CSU Viking’s father or the older gentleman who just became a naturalized citizen. In preparation for the big day, I set my alarm for 6 a.m.
If you take anything away from my story, it should be that voting is habit-forming.
When I wake up on Nov. 8, I hastily brush my teeth, shower and get ready for the day, making sure to grab my Ohio driver’s license. I walk into my designated voting precinct, take a deep breath and wait in line. As I wait, I start to notice the others waiting with me. When the Constitution says “We the people,” this is what it meant. I see older women coming fresh from breakfast, I see single mothers and fathers with their young children eager to be a part of the process, I see union workers, teachers and policemen. I see 18-year-olds and 99-year-olds, I see people of all races and ethnicities. I see business people in their suits and ties, and mechanics in their blue coveralls. I see older veterans in their “Vietnam” hats right behind several individuals wearing their U.S. Army uniform. I see people with canes and wheelchairs and I see others getting ready to hit the gym. I see… the people. I see that voting is about more than just my self interests — it’s about we the people.
I walk up to the table to show my ID, prove I live within the precinct, sign the book and then I’m off to the polls. When I left that building I was wearing my very own, “I voted” sticker — and I was proud of it.
My message to you is this: there is no doubt that among some of the busiest people in America are college students. With juggling our class loads, working part-time or full-time jobs, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, getting enough exercise, staying healthy, participating in extracurricular activities, family, social life and more — college students have a full plate. Sometimes we forget to eat or shower, or we completely forget about that one biology exam that is only mentioned in the syllabus. Ahh, c’est la vie for a college student. Whether it’s remembering if we showered, or if we got enough sleep the night before, something else that college students often forget about is voting. I always thought that it wasn’t for me.
College students are the future of our community and of our country. We want to make sure that the leaders CSU is producing are some of the brightest in the country. That includes leaders who are civically engaged, care deeply about our community and work together to solve problems that face our city. You and I can do great things with just our one vote. Please join me in making a difference in our communities: whether you are from Lakewood, Cleveland, Akron, Kent, Columbus or Cincinnati. If you take anything away from my story, it should be that voting is habit-forming. Any U.S. citizen can do it by just following a few easy steps. It is important that we all participate, and I hope that you all can join me on Election Day!