First-time voter understands the importance of this powerful tool

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Berk Oto

First time voters know more than anyone that voting matters, writes Health and Wellness editor Grace Holleb.

Grace Holleb, Health and Wellness Editor

On Oct. 29, my 18th birthday, I stood in line outside Lincoln Park High School for two hours alongside my twin sister, ready to cast my vote in the 2020 election. 

As a first-time voter, I went into the booth extremely excited to exercise my right. A woman running the early voting center shouted, “We’ve got two first-time voters here today!” and it made me admire the beauty of America’s true democratic practices. It was comforting to see the hundreds of others in line. 

Everyone here was about to use their vote, the single most powerful tool we have, to change their lives and the next generation’s. You might’ve been sitting at home, already sure of an outcome, but for all you know thousands of people were thinking the exact same way, leaving all of your voices unheard. Too confused, busy, overwhelmed, tired? Excuses are pointless and will hurt yourself and others. Although the true value of a vote in the general election fluctuates depending on where you live, voter enthusiasm can spearhead changes. 

This year, people wanted to be heard and more are voting than years before. Early voting totaled more than 100 million ballots nationwide and in many states surpassed total turnout for the 2016 election. On social media, television, radio — just about everywhere — I’ve heard “It’s more important than ever to vote.” But what does that really mean, and why was this year so vital? 2020 has been a complicated year, to say the least, and filled with speaking out and taking action against injustice. Voting offers the ability to leverage voices even more. 

Americans want change in the future and not just a little. Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, climate change, reproductive rights and gun restrictions — all of these issues are at the forefront of politics. Before casting my vote, I considered my view on each of these issues and which candidate aligned best with my views. This year, I didn’t just vote for somebody who is going to make life better for myself, because I already have health care, clean water and access to a good education. Instead, I voted thinking about if I didn’t have the privilege I was fortunately born with. 

Everyone’s voice matters, but with the Electoral College, not every vote is inherently equal. A vote in Alaska has much more power than a vote in New York, due to how much majority a certain party holds in each state. Illinois is characteristically a blue state, meaning its voters predominantly support the Democratic Party, so someone voting for Donald Trump in Illinois this election really doesn’t have much say in determining who Illinois’ electoral votes go to. As a resident of Illinois, I was sure to research judges, amendments, and state representatives that my vote would definitely be calculated to elect because they are determined by the popular vote. It’s important to educate yourself on local races where few votes can make a difference.

If everyone believed that their vote didn’t necessarily matter, democracy in America would fail.”

Voter enthusiasm can change the entire election if you’re living in a “battleground state” also called a “swing state” where both political parties hold similar support among voters. These voters have incredible weight in elections, one previous example being the 2000 election. George W. Bush won by gaining the electoral votes from Florida, winning by 0.009% — just 537 votes. It is a sorrowful thought that not all votes are essentially equal or that some do not “count” due to the Electoral College. If everyone believed that their vote didn’t necessarily matter, democracy in America would fail. I believe this to be a broken and outdated system. Where I live shouldn’t have an impact on whether or not my vote will be a deciding factor in the election. I called my grandparents and extended relatives who live in some of these swing states and made sure they had gone out to vote or mailed in their ballot.

Votes in battleground states like Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania came down to the thousands to determine Joe Biden will be our 46th president, showcasing once again that every vote can count depending on where you live, and in order to preserve America’s democratic practices, we must exercise the right to vote.