Let’s do it for democracy: The pressing importance of voting

Why we should fix low turnout in a high-stakes state
Lets do it for democracy: The pressing importance of voting

On March 19 I walked into a polling station for the first time in my life. As I stepped up to the check-in table, the poll worker asked me, “Are you a first-time voter?” Oddly enough, I hesitated for a split second, the weight of this moment seeping to my consciousness for the first time. “Yes. Yes, I am,” I replied, almost in disbelief. Immediately, the gymnasium broke into celebration—“We have a first-time voter!” reverberated through the room.

After diligently completing my ballot for the Ohio primaries according to my prior research, I left the polling station with a smile plastered on my face, and a feeling of accomplishment and success washing over me. Not even the uncompetitive nature of the election could take that feeling away from me. I had voted, a right so fundamental to any democracy. I was proud.

No later, however, did I realize that my inexorable pride was cast against a huge wave of indifference. The polling location I went to was nearly empty, the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL) office transporting students to cast their vote was rarely busy and when I asked friends whether they were registered to vote, they guiltily shook their heads. It wasn’t merely the apathy that scared me, but more so its consequences: If we carry the same aloofness to elections that are extremely important—especially in a swing state like Ohio—how will we be able to sustain a democracy?

Low voter engagement is not a new issue, but it seems to be getting more acute. Data from News 5 Cleveland corroborated a low voter engagement for the Ohio primaries. In Cuyahoga County, early voter turnout for the 2024 Ohio primaries was down 47% since 2016, and the two other election powerhouses in Ohio—Franklin and Hamilton Counties—followed a similar trend.

Granted, the Ohio primaries this year were largely uncompetitive. Most candidates ran uncontested, and the 2024 presidential race—President Joe Biden versus former President Donald Trump—was already decided. As far as issues go, Issue 26—deciding on a tax levy—may have been important, but “it doesn’t bring the folks out like they did last August… with Issue 1,” which was a constitutional amendment to increase the threshold for passing future amendments, says Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Tony Perlatti. Nor have the primaries received as much attention as last November’s general election, which saw 3.96 million voters show up to the polls to vote on a major reproductive rights amendment and marijuana legalization.

And that may just be part of the problem. Political scientists call it “voter fatigue,” the phenomenon where voters are called to step to the polls too often, to vote on too many issues with no easy access to relevant information. As a result, voters become annoyed and disengaged; many choose not to cast their ballot at all.

Yet, with the general election on our heels that is bound to be a tight race, it’s time we haul ourselves out of our lethargy. Ultimately, we cannot conveniently hide in the shadows of “voter fatigue” to excuse our behavior. As members of a democracy, we must rise to our voting responsibility, a right we are so grateful to have.

Voting may sound cumbersome, and especially as college students it’s yet one more thing to worry about—but your vote matters. What’s more, Case Western Reserve University makes it so easy to take responsibility, with resources for registering, getting informed and actually voting. Stop by the CCEL office in Tinkham Veale University Center to fill out a voter registration form. If you have questions, there is always someone to help you through the process. With voter registration also comes an unspoken duty to submerge ourselves in the political arena: researching candidates, diving into local and national political issues and developing critical opinions toward them. Especially with seats in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives up for election in November, doing our research is vital. National Public Radio (NPR) is a great place to start—they provide high-quality journalism with the goal of informing and involving the public. Lastly, when it comes to getting to the polls or casting a ballot, the CCEL office shuttles students to the polls for free on election day, and supplies absentee ballots for mail-in voting.

With such a seamless voting process here at CWRU, there is no reason you shouldn’t be picking up your voter registration form today. Regardless of the significance of an election, we need to be active voters. When we don’t vote, we risk adopting the mindset of detachment to elections that matter, and in a swing state like Ohio, our vote can have a sizable impact. Beyond that, however, voting is a hallmark of every democracy, and it’s central to preserving our political system. So, let’s make use of our right to vote. See you at the polls in November!

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