By Lila Dubois
My grandmother hasn’t voted in a presidential election since 1992. She’s one of the most politically opinionated people I know; election day should be her moment, right? Finally, a platform beyond the seven relatives who follow her on Facebook. A debate room grander than Wednesday night bridge games at the YMCA. A podium more direct than our dining room table.
Still, to her, election day is just another glaring example of her inability to affect real change in our democracy.
She is not alone either. The United States has not exceeded 60% voter turnout since the 1960s. Most critically though, this section of non-voters contains a disproportionate number of America’s most underserved peoples. For my grandmother even, I think a huge part of her political frustration stems from the lifetime of push-back she’s faced as a gay woman in the fight for LGBTQ+ civil liberties.
This disillusionment spans across every minority demographic, including those of race, religion, citizenship status, socioeconomic class, neuro-divergence, and more. It’s ironic. Voting, the system literally created to give voice to the masses, is when 80 million people (re 2020 presidential election) feel most powerless, discouraged, and unheard. And then decide not to vote.
Yet, while there are instances of handily-won races, there are times when margins come down to hundreds, tens, and even a few individual votes.
Just take a look at some instances where my grandmother (or her theoretical equivalent) and a few of her friends could’ve made a difference:
2021 Milton, PA Mayoral race - 4 vote margin in favor of Tom Aber (D)
2017 Virginia House of Delegates - the race ended in a tie, which was broken by pulling a card. *This win also gave control of the state House to Republicans
2016 Wyoming GOP state House primary - 1 vote difference, tallying 583 to 582
2016 Arizona GOP primary for the U.S. House of Representatives - 27 vote margin
2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate race - Democrat Al Franken wins by 312 out of 2.9 millions votes total. *This win gave Democrats the supermajority in the Senate
… and the list goes on. So don’t hit me with that “My vote doesn’t matter.” Evidently, it can. But only if you choose to exercise it.
So here, educators and parents: demand that voter registration drives are implemented and advertised at your local schools. Give your child a chance to have a say in the order they will be entering soon.
And students: seek out and utilize these avenues of representation at your fingertips. It’s our responsibility to make sure what needs to get done gets done!
Unless you can afford to be satisfied with the status quo, you cannot afford to sit out a vote.
For the nonbelievers and those of my grandmother’s generation who’ve been burned too many times, hope may be a foregone aspiration. But it is completely within the power of the next generation of voters to take control of democracy. It’s on us, the youth, to harness the tools of representation right at our fingertips. It’s time to start shaping a system we can believe in - and maybe, someday, one our grandmothers can believe in too.
Lila Dubois is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying speechwriting, though she moonlights as a waitress and singer-songwriter.