On Tuesday, Nov. 8, I stood in line for five hours alongside hundreds of my peers to change my voter registration and cast my vote in the midterm elections. When my friends and I finally made it out of the University of Michigan Museum of Art at 8:15 p.m., breathing in the air of freedom for the first time since 2:30 p.m., all I could think about was how I had wasted five perfectly productive hours of my life.
Had I voted early, like a responsible member of society, I could have spent those five hours catching up on lectures, working on a CS project or even just binge watching “The Vampire Diaries.” But instead, I stood in a line doing absolutely nothing. I didn’t complain, though, nor do I have a right to complain right now, because I took those five hours as my punishment for the original reason I had planned to not vote early: I wasn’t going to vote at all.
Registered to vote in New York City, I was guided by the notion that my blue vote wouldn’t really matter, so what was the point? Moreover, because changing my registration would still leave me voting in Ann Arbor — quite a ‘blue’ city as well — I didn’t see the point to that either. I know; I sound like a terrible member of society. How could I be so callous about my civic duty? But it’s the truth.
I genuinely, to my core, didn’t care about voting because for so long, even preceding my 18th birthday, I didn’t really believe one vote could hold that much sway. That all changed last Tuesday. So, in case you share the same sentiments I once held and you don’t really have the care or motivation to go vote in the future, I am here to tell you what changed my mind.
One of the biggest factors in deciding to vote was realizing that my vote could matter. To be clear, this was the first election I have ever been eligible to vote in, but my thoughts on voting have been established for quite a while. Specifically, I have always thought since we are such a highly populated country, the absence of my vote wouldn’t really matter.
I was shocked, however, to see that often, the margins are not as large as I once assumed. In the 2021 Democratic primary for Florida’s 20th District, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won by just five votes; the 2018 Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive was decided by 17 votes. And if you think those are low stakes elections, or not as important, in 2016 a Vermont state Senate primary was determined by one vote. Hearing about these cases poked a giant hole in my theory because, in these races, my vote wouldn’t be one amongst thousands, but rather one amongst five — or even potentially the defining vote. Seeing that races can come down to the wire was an eye opener for me.
Even though races can come close, my original thought still stood true: in dominantly blue states or cities, my additional blue vote still wouldn’t really have much of an impact. What really made me change my mind about voting on this particular Tuesday was an infographic that said in essence, “South Asian women have worked so hard for the right to vote, don’t waste it,” and that really got me.
Though specifically aimed at South Asian women, the general message rings true for a majority of us. There was a time when only white men with property had the right to vote, a time when minorities couldn’t vote and even to this day there are many people who can’t vote as a result of voter suppression. The point is that the right to vote is not a given, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Not only have people fought incredibly hard to make sure you and I can vote, but that fight is still ongoing. To just throw all that hard work away by not voting feels like a waste.
Gen Z’s voter turnout hit a record high this year, voting in historic numbers across the country. Many are crediting the stop of the red wave to Gen Z and their high turnout. In some states, voter enthusiasm as a whole exceeded the high mark that was set in 2018, especially in battleground states. Even with these improvements, however, voter apathy as a whole is still a serious issue. In a handful of states, voter turnout actually reached record lows – Mississippi and West Virginia saw less than 35% of eligible voters participate.
So even though you may be seeing the infographics applauding Gen Z’s effort, which is deserved, voter apathy still exists to a high degree and we should be aware of it. Whether it be combating apathy within yourself or trying to reach those around you, do what you can to restore the faith in voting. I admit, I definitely had lost mine. But with a little push towards my civic duty and a reminder of the lengths people have gone to for me to have this privilege, I can confidently say I will forever exercise my right to vote.
Palak Srivastava is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.