This time last year, I recall the excitement I had to vote. I showed up at the polling place and eagerly filled out my ballot for the election taking place within our township. While voting for township positions isn’t entirely appealing, I was nevertheless grateful for the opportunity to officially have a voice in local government as a first-time voter. 

Yet this year, things will be different. I received my ballot by mail instead of physically traveling to a polling station. I will be submitting it after I finish writing this column, on Oct. 24, instead of on the first Tuesday of November (when you will likely be reading this). Granted, in the world of a pandemic, everything is a little less exciting. 

Above all, the way I approach common political issues may be unlike how I did before the pandemic. The most pressing problem in our world right now is COVID-19, thus the X-factor in the presidential race is how candidates will deal with it. Want to stabilize the economy? Solve COVID-19. Improve federal roads and infrastructure? Solve COVID-19. 

I don’t like being a one-issue voter. Naive or not, I believe each party’s candidate has a complex platform that addresses both the subtleties and big issues our government faces. Dare I say I want to read them. I want to be challenged, to have to truly think about the better candidate as if my life depended on it. But this year, it quite literally might. 

Our current president has now had seven months to facilitate a solution for the virus. In that time, he’s recommended hydroxychloroquine and consumption of bleach. He’s also gotten the virus himself and claims to have become “stronger” as a result of it. Somehow, with more than 230,000 Americans dead, I doubt that’s the case. 

Across the aisle, we have former Vice President Joe Biden. If elected, he’s promised to make testing more available and more frequent. He’s proposed a mask mandate, similar to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s, for the entire country. Let’s also not forget that he had a hand in the “pandemic task force” in the National Security Council, that Trump dissembled right as COVID-19 was ramping up. 

Finally, we have ourselves, the voters, who are the most crucial part of the election. Quite simply, our lives have been gravely uprooted and we want normalcy. I’ve been studying remotely for almost two months, soon-to-be-three, and I am sick of it. I want to be in Ann Arbor, experiencing the rush of campus in-person. I want movie theaters to re-open because there’s a new James Bond installment that will keep getting delayed until they do. I, likely along with the rest of the country, am desperately searching for an answer and this election appears to be the best bet.

I could go on, but really that should be all we as voting citizens need to know. Sure, each candidate has their “perks and quirks,” but the biggest difference is Biden and Trump’s handling of the current health of our nation and, to a larger extent, the world. This isn’t baseball, you’re not given three strikes before you’re out. You get one pitch — a curveball — and you’ve got to knock it out of the park. 

Yet somehow, I don’t think the biggest gain and loss of this election season will be the winner and loser. The victor, I argue, is us. Ever since the start of quarantine (and probably even earlier), we have incessantly bombarded each other with campaigns to vote. When I watch sports, I am bombarded by commercials of voting drives. When I open Instagram or Snapchat, the first message I receive isn’t from my feed or list of friends — it’s asking me if I’ve registered to vote. There is a realization among our generation, now, more than ever, that we have the power to change our society’s well-being, starting with the pandemic.

The voter turnout, I predict, will be higher than it has been in a while and for that I am thankful. The Washington Post has long claimed that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Granted, public information is a large part of an efficient government, but I disagree. Democracy dies when a critical mass of citizens become lazy, in spite of passionate activists’ and voters’ best efforts. For a while, it looked like we were destroying this founding principle of democracy in the United States. As a first-time voter I felt a strong responsibility to help change this direction, only to subsequently feel hopeless because it seemed for a while as though the majority of the population was indifferent to voting. 

Now, about to vote, I could not be more proud. Yes, more of us will fill out absentee ballots. Of course, many of us will have already voted before you decided to read this article. We’ve started to defeat the stigma of voting, a movement which is only going to gain more momentum in years to come. If we can do that, imagine what else us members of Generation Z can do.

If you’re reading this and haven’t voted, go do so! And if you still don’t believe your vote will count, take a minute to reconsider. Our democracy depends on your vote. But more personally, your life may depend on your vote — if it hasn’t already.

 

Sam Woiteshek can be reached at swoitesh@umich.edu.

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