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EDITORIAL: National Voter Registration Day reminds us of our duty as citizens

As midterms near, registering to vote and the act of voting is important for our democracy

Voting is one of the most salient ways to make change and preserve democracy.  – Photo by Arnaud Jaegers/ Unsplash

This year’s midterm elections are shaping up to be some of the most consequential elections in recent American political history. Might the Democrats retain control of the Senate or even the House of Representatives? Or will Republicans manage to take back control of the Legislature?

The stakes of this election are high, as we continue to contend with the ongoing war in Ukraine, the economic fallout from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the issue of abortion. Both parties have openings and have the potential to do well — ultimately, though, it all comes down to which side turns out the most voters.

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day, a nonpartisan, civic “holiday,” of sorts. Since 2012, the day has registered 4.7 million people to vote.

The more people who register to vote is good for democracy. Our system of government depends upon an informed and engaged electorate. This day reminds people of their right to vote while also emphasizing the importance of voting to create the change we seek.

In recent years, voter turnout has actually increased. In 2020, for the presidential election,  66.8 percent of voters turned out — the highest turnout percentage in the 21st century. Now, presidential elections are always more popular and generally have higher turnout rates. The last midterm election was in 2018. In that election, 53 percent of eligible citizens voted — the highest midterm turnout rate in four decades.

This year, though, will be different as former President Donald J. Trump is not on the ballot or in power — will there be the same enthusiasm and engagement without him on the national scene? We will not expect to see a 66 percent turnout rate, and we probably will not see a 53 percent turnout rate, either. But if the rate is comparable, even if a bit lower, it would signal an enduring interest in politics that might allow for a restoration of faith in American government and democracy.

On some level, this level of political engagement might be hard to believe, as voters are feeling anxious about our democracy in its current state. In a recent poll from The 19th News and SurveyMonkey, “preserving democracy” tied with “jobs and the economy” as the top issues motivating people to vote this year.

“Preserving democracy” means voters believe that our political system is under threat. For it to tie with the economy and beat out other issues, such as abortion, is gesturing at the widespread worry throughout the country not just about the future, but the sustainability of this country in this moment.

The way to preserve democracy — to make sure that our political system remains potent — is to do the work of democracy. Citizenship renews and strengthens democracy. We all must take the responsibility of citizenship seriously this year.

It is worth noting that our political system sometimes feels detached from “we the people.” It sometimes feels that politicians look out for their own interests, at the expense of all of us. The answer, though, cannot be to disengage. If you do not like certain candidates, work to get candidates you like on the ballot — work in grassroots, help fundraise, knock on doors.

Deciding not to vote so as to bring attention to your discomfort with the candidates is an understandable position. To this end, not voting opens up a new set of responsibilities of citizenship. We can invest time into our local communities, and we can work directly on issues. These actions transcend voting and could leave a strong impact on our democracy.

Ultimately, we cannot improve politics if we decide to turn away from it. If out of disinterest we decide to disconnect from politics, we are only enabling the worst parts. The task is not to allow a broken system to break our spirits. Our task, rather, is to improve our country so that it is more representative of us and is better responsive to our needs.

Voting in elections with national significance is exciting. Still, we should not allow the pageantry of big national elections to obscure the fact that the most important elections are on the local level. The seemingly boring races for mayor, town council, school board: All of these have the most impact on our lives. If we want to see change, we should focus our efforts on these often overlooked races.

All change begins with us. As election day nears, it is important for everyone, but especially college students, to register to vote and participate in our democracy.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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