In a few weeks, I will be voting in my tenth (gulp!) presidential election. Most of you will have the opportunity to vote in your first. I confess I’ve spent a lot of time recently wondering how you feel about that momentous occasion. Are you excited? Nervous? Disgusted? Ready for a long, unusually nasty election season to be over already? Most importantly, are you prepared? Are you registered? Do you know where, when, and how you will vote? Have you studied the issues and the candidates and decided for whom you will vote?
Voting is a big deal. If you doubt the truism that every vote matters, bear in mind that the presidential election of 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to just 537 votes in the state of Florida. Gore won the national popular vote, but Bush was awarded Florida’s 25 electoral votes when the Supreme Court stopped a recount in the closely divided state. That gave Bush the 271 electoral votes needed to become president. Those 537 votes -- roughly equivalent to 25% of Scholars -- changed the outcome of the election and, arguably, the course of history.
Voting is an important exercise of the power we have as citizens to choose our leaders and try to shape the future of our country. That’s partly why we chose Power: Citizenship, Circuits, Societies as our theme in Scholars this year. We wanted to create opportunities for you to cultivate your skills as citizens so that you could approach the election in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, prepared to make a decision that you would feel good about regardless of the outcome. (I’ve voted for the winner in 4 of my 9 presidential elections. I’m hoping to boost my record to .500 with this contest. Pro tip: Election parties are more fun when your candidate wins.)
Below are some important election-related dates and events as well as a few resources to help you navigate the sea of information and analysis that every voter, regardless of party, has to confront.
| Important Dates and Events
October 14: Last day to register to vote in New York
October 18: Last day to register to vote in Maryland and New Jersey
October 19: Final presidential debate, 9-10:30 p.m. Watch with Scholars in 1100 Cambridge Community Center
October 20: Do Facts Matter? Presidential Politics in the Age of Truthiness, 5-6:15 p.m., Hoff Theater. Join us for a town-hall discussion, led by Scholars program faculty, in response to the presidential debates. This is going to be an engaging conversation about what role facts play in politics, how we evaluate claims, and who is responsible for checking. The Scholars faculty bring their expertise from many fields and will help us make sense of the debates, the campaigns, and the policies that will follow the election of a new president. To prepare for the discussion, you might want to read Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s recent article, “The State of the Presidential Debate: How Should Candidates – and Voters – Argue About Politics?”
October 27-November 3: Early voting in Maryland
November 8: ELECTION DAY! Polls in Maryland are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
| Voter Guides and Resources
The Cook Political Report is an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns for the US House of Representatives, US Senate, Governors, and President as well as American political trends.
PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. It is run by newspaper editors and reporters.
Presidential Gender Watch 2016 is a nonpartisan project of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University to track, analyze, and illuminate gender dynamics in the 2016 election.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball is a comprehensive website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball features detailed and frequently updated analysis for elections across the country.
TurboVote is an app that can help you vote regardless of where you live.
Wikipedia List of Newspaper Endorsements in the United States Presidential Election, 2016. If you want to read the endorsements, you can access many newspapers through UMD library databases, including LexisNexis Academic.
Bryan Stevenson, author of the First Year Book and the Scholars Power Book, Just Mercy, explains why
“You gotta vote!”
I know this has been a long and baffling political season, 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. I hope you’ll participate with enthusiasm and optimism about your country’s 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. I hope you enjoy getting in on the action. I look forward to seeing lots of "I Voted" stickers in the Cambridge Community come November 8.
Need a little more inspiration? Check out this BuzzFeed list of Nineteen Reasons People Will Vote for the First Time This Year. I think you’ll find it em-powering.