“Don’t boo; vote.” It was with those words that President Obama delivered the most electrifying words of his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech. Electrifying for a simple reason: because while small and amusing, those three words carry our destiny.
Full disclaimer: I am a Democrat. I am the president of the Brandeis Democrats, I have knocked on doors for Democrats and I have even gotten a few selfies with my Democratic Party heroes.
But just as important as my Democratic leanings, I am not afraid to say, is my unwavering commitment to getting more folks out, educated on the issues and voting—regardless of party.
Many times in recent history, the process of voting in certain elections may seem pretty futile. Quite often, voters may have no idea that there are even some races underway due to lack of engagement in the process. But while presidential politics are always the top-of-ticket and most covered elections in the media, there is so much more to keep up on.
Stepping down the ladder from national politics, let’s consider Massachusetts. In 2014, Charlie Baker (R) defeated Martha Coakley (D) for the governorship by approximately 40,000 votes, in a race with more than 2,000,000 cast: a 2 percent margin. The votes Coakley needed to win were all out there (admittedly I was member to that—my ballot was caught in the mail and never made it in on time to be counted), but they didn’t turn out. Maybe those who didn’t vote thought their vote wouldn’t make a difference.
Stepping down once again to 2006 in my home district, a young Democrat named Benjamin Downing—fresh out of college—had launched a run for state Senate in a field of four other candidates, including a former state representative. 24,735 votes cast, and Downing eked out a win, edging his closest opponent by 243 votes. To this day, Downing discusses those 243 votes as if they are the most important things to him; because they had become quite nearly that. Each one just as important as the next toward a lauded 10-year tenure in the state Senate. (We’re going to miss you, Senator.)
Taking it back to Brandeis, many students who were on campus last semester can recall this: the razor-thin margin of the last Student Union presidential election. Two votes decided that one. As one who keeps a close eye on elections, it sticks out to me every once in a while that in a case like this, just one or two people could have quite literally tipped the election the other way around, just like a teeter-totter.
I speak not to argue that one party or individual should have won or lost in each of these elections, and that voter apathy was to blame. I speak instead to argue that given greater voter participation, the results would have been more representative of our community, and it’s on each of us to make that happen.
Each year, voter registration drives take place on campus—I urge students to take advantage of these drives if they are not already registered. Coming along later there will be specially-designated vans to drive registered Waltham voters to the polling place in town, making it easy to have your voice be heard and have your vote added to the pile.
Throughout the year, too, there will be Student Union elections. Ballots will be sent to us via email. I ask for students to open the email, click the link and vote, even if you choose the option “abstain.” It means something.
It means something when the vote is within 40,000. It means something when the vote is within 300. And it sure as hell means something when the vote is down to two.
When you want some accountability, seek out an answer with the power that is in your hands; the power of saying that you are a voter and that you plan on voting again and again. The power of using your vote to sway the outcome of who sets the taxes you pay or which person represents you to the university or who designs the next park down the street. When life presents a challenge, don’t boo. Rise to master it, and remember what you need to do when election day rolls around (FYI: in Massachusetts, the next one is Sept. 8.)