Hayes: Register to vote, gain a voice


Bob Hayes, Assistant Opinion Editor

Throughout my young life, whenever my friends or classmates began to argue about politics, I backed away. Whenever I came across an online political argument while innocently scrolling through Facebook, I switched to scrolling through ESPN.com, a website that better represents my niche as an obsessive sports fanatic. I always removed – and I often continue to remove – myself from political discussions because they often devolve into a passionate sound and fury involving little more than partisan stubbornness and vitriol.

As politically ambivalent as I was while growing up, I look forward to exercising my vital right to political representation when I will go to the polls for the first time on Nov. 4. Nearly all of Northwestern’s students – many for the first time in their lives – have been constitutionally granted the same right to vote, and I strongly encourage you to register by the deadline on Oct. 7.

A large number of young, voting-eligible Americans ask, what is the point of voting if each of our votes means even less than a regular season baseball game? The popularly cited Downs paradox, or simply the paradox of voting, states that an individual’s vote has an infinitesimally small chance of actually making a difference, and thus the costs outweigh the benefits by default.

Fortunately, the improvements of the American voting process over the years mean the costs of voting are no more than the short amount of time it takes to register and eventually to vote. The expansion of voting locations allows voters to fill out their ballots at nearly any hour of the day at a convenient location. According to economist Anthony Downs, while the benefit of voting is close to zero, the paradox fails in that the cost of voting within the modern system is hardly identifiable.

Looking at the benefits, we must understand that the physical product of each individual vote is less important than the broader sociopolitical meaning. I am not trying to make some jingoist, American exceptionalist argument from centuries past, but the importance of representation holds true today. If you choose to decline the right to vote, how do you have any right to critique our government? Making blind complaints about our government officials is one of America’s greatest pastimes. A citizen’s right to a vote equals a right to a voice.

Furthermore, just about any history or international relations class you can find in a course catalog discusses some form of widespread disenfranchisement, whether it takes place abroad or in this country’s frighteningly recent history. We learn about the misfortunes of those who are or were cruelly denied suffrage, yet many of us fail to appreciate our own right to vote.

Although we will not be voting for a new president this fall, midterm elections still have a significant impact on our government. In Cook County, voters will be deciding on a new U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative and Illinois governor, with polls for the latter two elections predicting exceptionally tight races. The gubernatorial election between Republican Bruce Rauner and incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn could prove to be a pivotal election as the state government faces a bipartisan economic crossroads.

Whether voting in Illinois or in a different state, your vote gives you a fundamental right of representation while only taking a few minutes of your time. Even if you identify as an uninformed voter – as I myself do at this time – take some time to learn about candidates and their policies, as they could have a profound effect on our nation’s future. Right now, register to vote online by Oct. 7 and give yourself a voice.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].