How many times have you voted before? Once? Twice? Never? Millions of people abstain from the electoral system every year, especially young people. If you’ve never voted before or aren’t planning on voting this upcoming November, let me see if I can change that.
Last week on the West Coast, California voters decided to not recall their Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, by a wide margin — 62.7 percent to 37.3 percent at the time of this publication. Although that is a solid margin, polls in early August showed Newsom in deep trouble with his fate up to a coin toss. What appears to have saved Newsom was massive Democratic interest and turnout in the last few weeks of the recall. Governors have real power, and having a Republican in charge of the most populated state, even if for just one year, could have had enormous effects. Sometimes voting isn’t about changing the world but preventing backsliding.
Those most cynical may be thinking, “Sure, a lot of voters can make a difference, but my individual vote doesn’t matter.” Although this has a grain of truth, it misses the mark. Elections can be, and are, decided by very narrow margins. Binghamton University is a part of New York’s 22nd Congressional District. Democrat Anthony Brindisi narrowly lost to Republican Claudia Tenney by merely 109 votes in the 2020 election. That’s 109 votes out of a pool of over 300,000 votes cast. In the same election cycle, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks beat Democrat Rita Hart in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District by merely six votes in an election where nearly 400,000 votes were cast. This is to show even federal elections can come down to just a handful of voters.
Beyond just voters, even one representative can be the edge between being in the majority or the minority. Look at the U.S. Senate; there is currently a 50-50 tie with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaking vote. The fact that Democrats have any ability to pass any legislation whatsoever is squarely on the backs of Georgia voters who flipped both Senate seats blue earlier this year to secure a Democratic majority. It was not cynicism that flipped Georgia, but activists, especially people of color, who turned out the vote.
Now, the obvious criticism of “vote blue no matter who” is that Democrats have a majority and aren’t doing enough. This is a popular critique among our youth, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. But the answer is not to throw away your vote. The reason is harm reduction — the opposing party won’t turn out less if you stay home. This means for people who want bold and sweeping reforms passed, refusing to settle for moderate Democrats in elections because of “moral purity” does nothing more than give political power to the other party. It is hard to imagine a more self-destructive tactic than helping elect a politician with diametrically opposite views because you think the milquetoast moderate isn’t good enough.
Furthermore, purity politics perpetuates actual harm. Just take the example of LGBTQ+ rights. In 2019, the New York State Senate, after finally flipping blue, passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — a groundbreaking law for the queer community in New York. This law protects from employment termination, unequal access to public accommodations, discriminatory eviction and more. Meanwhile, we can look at an old 2016 law passed in North Carolina that banned transgender individuals from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with and banned any local municipalities from protecting LGBTQ+ individuals with their own ordinances. These are two microcosms of laws all across the nation passed and proposed by Democrats and Republicans. Equivocating or disregarding these policies under a guise of “moral purity” is nothing more than denial — an attempt to take no moral responsibility for the effects of one’s own actions. Maybe you don’t personally have to think about another state’s anti-discrimination laws if you want to travel or study there. Unfortunately, we aren’t all born that lucky.
So what’s the takeaway? Vote! It’s incremental, slow and often unfulfilling. But it can both move us in the right direction and stop us from backsliding. If you are not registered to vote, register! There is still time before the 2021 elections this upcoming November. If you are a student on campus, take a trip to the Center for Civic Engagement in the University Union. They have ample resources of absentee ballots, registration and voting information. When elections, especially local ones, are decided by 100, 50 or even 10 votes going this way or that way, every vote counts.
Eleanor Gully is a senior triple-majoring in French, economics and philosophy, politics and law.