There has been a huge surge, particularly among my generation, to go to the polls. Massive signup campaigns can be spotted on campuses and across many cities in the United States. National Voter Registration Day brought in a record 800,000 new voters, a figure many attribute to the upcoming midterm elections. Celebrities have encouraged voting on social media, in speeches, as part of campaigns and even during concerts.
According to the Pew Research Center, millennials and Gen Xers make up 59 percent of the eligible voting body in this country. However, these generations have a lower midterm turnout than older ones did when they were of the same age, and they are less likely to participate in elections. There is no question: More people need to vote.
All of the new voter signups are fantastic — we need a more representative voting body, and hopefully it will start a trend of increasing civic participation past these next few elections, that lasts throughout every voter’s life.
But as of right now, we still don’t have a representative democracy. This means that by pushing for voting as the sole solution and nothing else, we are keeping out a lot of other voices. There are so many people in this country who are unable to vote on Election Day because they work dozens of miles away from a polling station, and voting is almost physically impossible for them to do in between work hours. Going to vote would take hours out of the day. Yes, submitting a ballot early is an option, but it can often be more complicated than expected, especially for new voters. Physical barriers also apply to voters who are disabled, as many polling stations are inaccessible and require a great deal of pre-planning for those with limited ability to access.
Additionally, a large segment of America’s population does not speak fluent English. There are a few regions with laws requiring their election materials to be printed in non-English languages, mostly located in the Southwest and Alaska, with small pockets around the rest of the country. While these jurisdictions contain 68.8 million voting-age citizens, they do not account for a majority of the country’s eligible voters. A good step toward making it easier to vote would be digitally translating ballots into the top 10 languages spoken in each polling area and tailoring languages to a specific county using census or survey data.
It is more difficult for those who don’t read English fluently to make an informed decision about the candidate they want to support. Online politician profiles are written almost exclusively in English, and even when a potential voter knows the nuances of issues they care about, it is difficult to gain the necessary knowledge from an unbiased site to make their choice.
There are thousands of examples of how voting has been purposefully denied to marginalized Americans since this country was founded. From denying the vote to residents with current court debt to purging voter lists in Georgia, disenfranchisement is as alive as ever. As activists continue to encourage people to vote, they should also actively fight for the voting system to change and become more accessible.
A large chunk of our country is underrepresented in our political system on purpose, and it’s up to all of us to keep finding new ways to help others vote. Whether it’s volunteering to be translators or drivers to the polls, helping others understand how to early vote or simply making others aware of these issues, we all have a part to play in dismantling this system.
Even if it were perfectly representative, voting one party in over another will not solve all of our problems overnight. Alone, voting this Election Day will not solve mass shootings. It will not end white supremacy. It will not stop sexual assault in the workplace. Electing new representatives may help laws to avoid these things and more, but there will always be a sense of gridlock the way our government is currently operating. Theoretically, different laws will not change the divided culture in this country. They will not mend our unbalanced society. They will not change the individuals we interact with every day.
Many can agree — we need a revolution in this country, but it doesn’t only have to take the form of voting for the Democratic Party. Filling in circles on a ballot cannot be the only valid way to change things. Protesting and educating fellow Americans, while also supporting organizations doing this work already, will create change as well, even if it’s not easily quantifiable. Working to make sure as many residents as possible can vote in the meantime is also important.
This Election Day, don’t just cast your ballot, decide you’ve done all you can and leave the rest up to someone else. Actively work to dismantle the current voting systems and use your ability and privilege to make America a truly representative democracy.
Marissa Martinez is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.