People power is not lost at the polling booths
January 02, 2014
by Baxter Hankin

Baxter Hankin is in his junior year at Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he leads the local chapter of YUGA, a human rights organization. He is also the founder and president of MinorsVote, which helps minors across America to voice their political opinions.

“Why me?” many people ask. “How could I do that? I’m just some average person.” This attitude is reflected by current voter participation. In the most recent presidential election, only 58.2% of eligible Americans voted. The percentage is lower in the recent 2013 election day for local governments. These numbers raise a serious question: Why are many Americans not voting?

Mainly, US citizens feel as if they are powerless. In a nation of over 300 million people, the average citizen feels as if their vote is minuscule in the larger picture. If you look at statistics, this is simply false. The outcome of the 2000 presidential election was determined by a margin of just 537 Floridian ballots. This difference could easily have been negated by a few more people deciding to vote.

So let’s assume that you have this kind of voting power: because you do. Let’s assume that you lived in Florida at that time. What if you campaigned and got 538 more people to cast a vote for Gore instead of Bush? The entire outcome of the election would have been different. Our president would have been different. Our nation, policy, infrastructure, and everything, would be different. Regardless of whether that change is positive or negative, you have the ability to create that kind of change. You have the power to change the course of this country, to follow a path that better represents what you believe in. However, in most presidential situations, a few hundred votes won’t do much. Write a few editorials. Start a campaign. You could change the entire future of this nation, by simply telling people what you believe and why it makes a difference in everyone’s lives. If people understand the impact of their vote, enough of them may change their opinions to change the election’s outcome.

Maybe you’re voting for a local representative in an election, or for your town budget. After all, presidents are only elected every few years. Often, these smaller elections come down to just a handful of ballots. For example: In my hometown of Newtown, Connecticut, there are frequent votes which decide the town budget. A few years back, the budget was rejected by a margin of less than ten votes. If a few more of our 28,000 residents had cast their votes in favor of this budget, our lives would have been changed. Regardless of whether you want a combination of higher taxes, better schools, and better town facilities, every person’s vote made a difference. If one person brought just a few of their friends to vote “yes,” our town and our lives would be different.

Finally, there is the example of the involved activist. I know some of these people: ranging from advocates of new domestic legislation, to supporters of human rights across the globe. Without supporters of change and improvement, ranging from a few of my friends, to Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Malala Yousafazai, their movements would be significantly weakened.

If there is no one advocating for what you believe in, why can’t you advocate? After all, if you don’t step up to the challenge of fighting for yourself, no one else will. All it takes is determination. The leaders listed above came from a wide variety of backgrounds. They only needed the determination to free their people, to protect the concepts of democracy and freedom, to pursue an education.

Now, I ask you: Does your opinion still have no value?

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