Why is it important to vote? What voting in America really means.

In the 2014 midterm elections, only 22 percent of millennials who were eligible turned out to vote. The United States trails behind many other developed nations when it comes to voter turnout. Demographically, people ages 18-26 are the least inclined to vote. So why is it now more important to vote than ever? Because not voting hurts students, minorities and the younger generation in the long run.

According to the Pew Research Center, Generation X and younger generations like millennials make up a clear majority of eligible voters (135 million), but cast 21 million fewer votes than older generations in the 2014 midterm elections. People aged 54 and older cast 57 million votes, whereas only 36 million votes were cast by people 53 and younger (Pew Research Center) , even though they make up a larger portion of the population. The first and most important reason to vote is to accurately reflect the voice of the nation and its people.

If it feels like the government doesn’t understand and reflect the sentiments of the majority of its people, that might be right. The Electoral College was historically set up so the people could not directly vote for the leader, but instead vote for representatives who would then choose the best person for the job. This is why one could be a Democrat in Missouri but because of the “winner-take-all” system, the state could vote Republican in the presidential election. The individual’s voice is not accurately represented, because the party system and Electoral College takes precedence.  That’s the beauty of the representative democracy.

Where people like you and I can affect change is by voting in local and midterm elections. If you want the government to work for you, you have to vote in people who reflect your point of view and support your perspective. With the transparency of the internet, it has never been easier to find out anything and everything about a candidate. Senators and congressmen are elected to represent their constituents, and the best way to hold them accountable is to make sure we vote. If we don’t like how they are voting, who they are taking money from and who they are supporting on our behalf, we have a chance to vote them out every two years.

If you were one of those people who was disappointed by the options presented in the last presidential election, you were not alone. It may seem like there is a rise of nationalism within the U.S and all over the globe (which is not entirely wrong), but there is also a genuine disinterest and disappointment with the two-party system within the U.S.

According to PBS, even though presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 1.5 million votes, she still trailed former President Barack Obama’s totals by more than 2 million ballots. Most people simply did not turn out to vote either because they didn’t like their options or because they were apathetic toward the Electoral College voting system.

Voting affects everything from how we pay our taxes, how much we get paid, how much funding our schools receive and even how much we pay for our food. In this midterm election, amendments such as raising the minimum wage, legalizing medicinal marijuana and a retail tax to fund health care services for veterans are all on the ballot. The issues that affect our everyday lives can begin with local elections. Before marijuana can be legalized in all 50 states or the minimum wage raised federally, we can change laws in our cities and states by proposing and voting on local legislation. We can elect local legislators who reflect our views and create a system of government that works for all of its constituents.

Voting in America could mean expanding rights for LGBTQ+ people, getting better funding for military veterans and their healthcare, increasing accessibility and affordability to education for our kids, and providing a system of government that invests in its people instead of corporations.

Voting is a way to stand up and use our voices to bring change; to be able to peacefully assemble and protest, to be able to bear arms and even to practice any religion we see fit. Voting means practicing the right to live and let live. Voting in America is crucial in bringing a voice to the voiceless. Voting in America has never been more important. Take it from someone who has lived in the United States for 16 years and just earned the right to vote. My voice was never heard in the system because I was never considered a member of the system. After working tirelessly and spending thousands of dollars to become a citizen, I plan on exercising my right to vote on November 6.