We’ve been in school for two weeks now, and the initial excitement that accompanies coming to Ann Arbor for another school year is beginning to be tempered by the reality of school. Even in the short time since school started, we’ve all undoubtedly heard about the impending presidential election.

Elections always bring an air of excitement to the fall season, but this specific election is particularly important and relevant to college students. Nov. 6, 2012 will be our opportunity to exercise a right that people all over the world have died for and continue to fight for. It’s the time we have a voice in choosing who will hold what is arguably the most powerful office in the world; it’s our chance to point the country in a direction of our choosing. For the first time in our lives, we will be able to exercise one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the American system — the right to vote.

In this country, voting isn’t just “pretty much a big deal”— it’s probably the biggest deal regarding governance that Americans have ever received. Every few years, American citizens have the option of kicking out the sitting members of legislature and the chief executive and installing other people in their places using votes. Such a regular transfer of power, controlled by the citizenry, simply doesn’t exist in many other countries around the world. Our version of democracy extends to the legitimacy of elections as well. Unlike many countries, there is virtually no one saying that our elections are illegitimate.

When you vote for a candidate, you are effectively saying that you would rather have that candidate represent you in government than anyone else on the ballot. Every one of these candidates has some kind of framework that specifies how he or she will behave in office. Political parties are a part of that framework, providing a lens for voters to look at candidates through. We therefore have both the person and the party platform to consider when deciding how to cast our vote. Our voting system is designed to result in the election of officials who are qualified to do their job and represent the largest possible segment of society. The way our current government and elected representatives have been acting leaves the voters wanting more.

Theoretically, our fellow Americans have elected to office people who represent themselves. If so, why does Romney have so much support as a deficit reducer when he lacks a specific plan to tackle the issues most central to our budget crisis? Why is budget sequestration, a measure that will probably throw our economy into another recession, being discussed by members of Congress as an acceptable or even preferable alternative to budgetary compromise? And why did Obama sign a potentially unconstitutional measure allowing an indefinite detention of Americans on American soil?

It’s imperative that those of us who are new voters keep all aspects of our candidates in mind as we decide who to vote for in this election, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. We can’t change who is on the ticket in November this late in the election season, and as a result, some voters may end up perceiving their ballot as a long list of choices between lesser evils. If that situation arises, we, as new voters, should seek compromise by voting for a candidate who represents us better than the other candidates, and in the future help nominate candidates who will do a better job of representing our generation in the government.

Neither presidential campaign is paying attention to this state, since its electoral votes are very likely to go to President Obama. That should be completely irrelevant to voters of any age. Voting isn’t just about putting someone in the White House for a four-year period. Voting is about having your own voice heard on the local, state and national levels of government. If you’re a newly eligible voter and having such a voice doesn’t appeal to you, think of one thing you dislike about government in America. If even one thing comes to your mind, where’s the sense in passing up your first opportunity to do something about it?

Eric Ferguson can be reached at ericff@umich.edu.

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