Shawn Danino: Your vote matters

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 6:03pm

When Yousef Rabhi ran in the Democratic primary race on Aug. 3, 2010, turnout was low. By the time the ballots were counted for the Democratic seat of the 11th District’s Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners seat, unofficial results had Yousef at 998 votes and his primary opponent, Mike Fried, at 997 votes

Elections decided by one vote don’t happen that often. In a country of almost 320 million people, the likelihood of a single voter swaying a national election is statistically very unlikely.

I heard this all the time when I was registering voters on campus. People would say that their votes don’t count and they probably never will. In my work on millennial voter engagement, I am probably never going to singlehandedly shift an election. But in preparation for the Democratic Michigan primary, Students for Sanders - Ann Arbor (a group that I led) registered approximately 600 voters. The primary was decided by fewer than 20,000 votes, meaning that the students who were registered voters could not have made up for more than three percent of the margin by which Bernie Sanders won. Getting people excited about engaging in the democratic process was still one of the best experiences of my life, and here is case for why your vote matters:

In 2000, Florida’s electoral college seats were decided by 537 votes and the victory ultimately gave George W. Bush the presidency. The implications of this victory are hard to do justice to and even harder to quantify, but it’s worth repeating that a presidential election could have been swayed if 269 voters decided to vote for Gore instead of Bush, or if 537 more voters decided to show up.

In too many ways, the deck seems stacked against getting millennials like myself to turn out. In an election on a millage held May 3 this year, turnout was a paltry 12.13 percent, with 32,492 voters participating in Washtenaw County. In 2014, only 21.3 percent of 18 to 29 year olds turned out to vote in the midterm elections. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2018.

This election was held the week after the Winter 2016 semester ended, so it was clearly difficult for students to show up, particularly those from out of state who were more likely to go home. There was also very limited information available to make informed decisions. The main video prepared by the Western Washtenaw Democrats on behalf of this had 11 views on YouTube as of May 22.

Beyond obtaining quality information, simply ensuring that one is registered to vote can also be an uphill battle. States like California and Oregon have recently passed laws that make it considerably harder to slip through the cracks. In California, for example, when one registers for his or her driver’s license at the DMV, one is automatically registered to vote (and has to specifically opt out if he or she does not want to be registered). Passing laws like this will remove a necessary hurdle for being involved in the democratic process and raise the likelihood of voter turnout considerably. The democratic process in Michigan would benefit from passing a similar law and voter turnout across all elections would likely increase.

Turnout in elections is also clearly higher in years where the presidency is on the ballot. That means that this year will likely see much higher turnout than we saw in the 2014 midterm elections, when just 36.4 percent of voters  made their voices heard.

In order to ensure high turnout in 2016 and in the midterm elections in 2018, the state of Michigan needs to make it easier for citizens to register to vote and to obtain objective, quality information.

To maintain the level of momentum seen on the Democratic side through Sanders’ presidential campaign, a group called Brand New Congress was created by former campaign staffers to continue channeling energy into general election Congressional races. This bold strategy has potential to capitalize on the political momentum from the Bernie revolution and keep people excited about upcoming elections. Congressional races rarely get the press and attention that presidential races receive, but they have a large impact on the direction in which the country moves. Individual votes are even more important in these elections due to their lower turnout.

Regardless of whom you vote for and whom you support, it is critical that we have access to quality information about candidates and legislation. Voting is a protected right and especially in states like Michigan, our votes really do matter.

Shawn Danino can be reached at danino@umich.edu.