For better or for worse, presidential election season is upon us. It's the time of year when candidates smother the media with carefully tailored videos full of sunlight and a diverse cast of faces. Their names and messages appear in a flood of yard signs, posters, and t-shirts. Media outlets give live updates on the state of primary elections across the nation, picking the nation apart into counties and analyzing populations and percentages as if studying them through a microscope. One might think that such a constant stream of coverage would incentivize voting — but despite the pleas of politicians and easy access to information provided by the Internet, many people remain apathetic about participating in this democratic process.
Luckily, Oregon makes voting relatively easy. Ballots are sent by mail to one's doorstep. One only needs to open the envelope, bubble in their preferences for candidate or measure, slip the sheet into the return envelope and drop it in the mailbox. There is no waiting in line at the polls or taking time off work to cast your ballot. In Oregon, voting doesn't require a car or flexible work hours, only the ability to get to a mailbox.
But if voting is so easy in Oregon, then why did only two-thirds of registered voters actually participate in the 2018 statewide election? Perhaps partisanship plays a role — many voters do not identify strongly with one party or another, and do not identify with candidates on either side of the political spectrum in our deeply partisan politics. Others believe that their one, meager vote has no impact on the election results.
Although the two-thirds statistic is disappointing, voter turnout in Oregon is exceptional compared to other states. In the 2016 election, voter turnout in West Virginia and Tennessee barely reached 50%. Hawaii had the lowest voter participation, with a measly 42.3%. The national average is 55.7%, and the United States falls behind 26 other nations in the percent of registered voters who actually cast their ballots.
The question remains: is American really a democracy if only half of our eligible citizens express their opinion in the voting process? The answer: It's not. To have a government that most accurately represents and addresses our people and their issues, we need all eligible voters to cast their ballots. The common saying "You don't get anything unless you ask" holds true for politics. How is our government supposed to know what we want from it if we don't give our input? How can we expect changes in our nation's leadership if we don't even express a desire for that change? The fact is, elections have consequences. Votes elect politicians, who make laws that affect our daily lives. Often, they determine the funding for our schools, or public works. By influencing who can come into this country, they decide the identity of your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Their tax policies will influence how much you pay, and their healthcare bills the cost of insurance. When you give up your right to vote, you give everyone else's ballot a little more power--people who may hold views contrary to yours. By abstaining from your civic duty, you let others decide the future of your nation and your community, perhaps in a way you dislike.
Undoubtedly, the voting process is flawed. Most elections are held on weekdays, when many can't afford to take time off work to vote. Some polling stations require some private method of transportation to access, leaving ballot casting in those areas in the hands of the more fortunate. Especially in Oregon, it's difficult to vote if you don't have a permanent residence to receive the ballot at — an especially acute problem since Oregon has one of the largest homeless populations.
But for most of us, there's little excuse for not taking the envelope out of your mailbox, checking a few boxes, and sending it off. Everyone has an idea of what they want from their government, and though no candidate is the perfect match for any individual voter, odds are you can find one that you agree with on a fundamental level.
The fact is, making America more democratic is not as hard as some make it sound. A succession of voting reforms and a motivated American voting body will go a long way in bringing America closer to a nation "for the people, by the people." Oregon's easily accessible voting process makes it the best state to show that people can, through individual choices, self-govern in a way that accurately represents the population. All changes start small — like a vote, a mark on a ballot — but done together, they have unimaginable power.
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