The following content was first sent as a mid-semester email from College Park Scholars Executive Director Marilee Lindemann to first- and second-year Scholars students.
I voted for the first time in the presidential election of 1980, and I’ve been kind of a nerd about it ever since. What can I say? Standing in line with my fellow citizens, in a church or school, with the PTA selling brownies and all the folks walking out proudly sporting their fresh new “I Voted” stickers—I get a lump in my throat every time I participate in this vital ritual of democracy. Like I said: nerd!
Soon—if you haven’t already taken advantage of early voting—many of you will have the opportunity to vote in your first election. I’ve been wondering how you feel about that momentous occasion. Are you excited? Nervous? Just ready for the din of the campaign commercials to disappear?
Here are three things you should know about voting as Nov. 6 approaches:
1. It’s less difficult than you might think to prepare for and to participate in an election. It’s super easy to access nonpartisan information about candidates, issues and the process of voting. If you don’t have a plan in place yet, there is still plenty of time to make one. Just do it! (There are a couple of links in this letter that can help you get started.)
2. It’s good for you—by which I mean, it’s in your interest. Elected officials make decisions that directly impact your life—everything from climate change and gun safety to the cost of your tuition, the dining establishments that end up on Route 1, and the jobs that might be available when you graduate are shaped by policies that elected officials may, or may not, enact. Voting is a way of having a say in those decisions.
3. It matters. If you doubt the truism that every vote matters, bear in mind that in 2017, control of the Virginia House of Delegates hinged on the outcome of a tied race in a single legislative district. With more than 23,000 votes cast, the tie was settled by a random drawing. Republican David Yancey won the drawing, giving his party a 51–49 majority in the House of Delegates. Every. Vote. Counts.
Voting is an important exercise of the power we have as citizens to choose our leaders and try to shape the future of our neighborhoods, our state, and our country. I’m proud to see that so many current and former Scholars have gotten involved with TerpsVote, a coalition dedicated to providing information and resources to student voters at the University of Maryland. Their website can help you formulate a voting plan (including signing up for a bus to take you to the polls early) or connect with election-related activities and events.
I’d like to challenge Scholars students to help overturn the assumption that young people don’t vote by showing up at the polls in droves. Help Maryland win the Big 10 Voting Challenge. Blue wave? Red wave? Regardless of party, let’s create a Youth Wave!
Politics has gotten weird and intense in the past few years, but voting is our responsibility as well as our right in a democratic society. It’s a right people have died to secure and a responsibility we can’t take lightly. In College Park Scholars, we emphasize the importance of putting what we learn into practice in the world. Voting works similarly. It’s a way of actualizing what you’ve been learning about citizenship all your life.
I hope you are excited about reaching this important milestone and that you’ll participate with enthusiasm and optimism about the future. Democracy can be a messy and even wacky business, but government of, by and for the people is still one of the world’s coolest and most radical ideas. Who knows? Maybe you’ll become a voting nerd, too!
I look forward to seeing lots of “I Voted” stickers in the Cambridge Community come Nov. 6. Happy voting!
About the author:
Marilee Lindemann, associate professor of English, joined College Park Scholars as Executive Director in July 2014. Prior to Scholars, Professor Lindemann served as Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Program, in the Office of Undergraduate Studies from 2002-2013.