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Access to voting is a privilege: use it

Reflecting on this season two years ago, I remember many things. There were leaves on the ground, puddles on the sidewalk and so many questions yet to be answered regarding the future of America. Two years have passed and a new election season has begun. It’s time to start registering and researching what you want to vote for. In 2014, only 43.1 percent of eligible Washington state voters turned out for the midterm election. This number jumped to 65.7 percent during the 2016 elections, according to the United States Election Project. This may seem like a promising increase in voter turnout but midterm elections rarely generate as much interest as Presidential elections. Voter turnout in the U.S. still remains significantly lower than most similarly-developed countries, according to the Pew Research Center. This comparison was drawn using voting data from the more than 30 countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization focused on socioeconomic development. Out of the countries that make up the OECD, the U.S. ranked No. 26. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 70 percent of eligible voters in U.S. believe high voter turnout is important. So, why isn’t voter turnout better? People don’t vote for all sorts of reasons. In some states, ballots must be submitted in person and no matter how you vote, identification is required. Therefore, the voices of those who are unable to access or obtain essential forms of identification remain unheard. According to a New York Times article, Americans under the age of 30, a group largely made up of college-age individuals, tend to be “socially liberal,” and for many on Western’s campus, that’s true. Many students here have expressed their concerns about environmental sustainability, firearm safety and affordable housing, all three of which will be addressed on the ballot next month. But if a belief is not translated into a vote, legislation might not change. If passed at the state level, Initiative 1631, an initiative to promote clean energy, could set a national precedent. A cohesive group of more than 200 organizations joined forces to make a plan that reduces pollution by charging a fee to the largest industrial polluters and then investing the money back into projects promoting a healthier environment. Along with exciting initiatives and levies covering a wide array of issues, 17 elections are also taking place on the Whatcom County ballot next month. The positions include local prosecuting attorney, commissioners and district court judges. There are also seats to be filled in all three branches of the national government. In the most recent national election of 2016, President Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote, ultimately resulting in him winning the presidency. Because of the way the Electoral College is divided among each state, this final result came down to less than 80,000 votes, NPR reported. Eighty thousand people is less than half the population of Whatcom County. The political landscape in the U.S. has changed significantly since the 2016 election. Many changes have been made to legislation including the repeal of NAFTA, threats to DACA and restrictions on access to healthcare. Those who have been negatively affected by the 2016 election have been finding ways to cope and voice their beliefs for two years now, but the time has come to practice one of the most effective forms of democracy. So much is on the line. For Washington state residents, voting is easier than ever. This year the state has agreed to pay all postage in an effort to increase participation. Others may not have nearby drop boxes, paid postage or in some cases even the required forms of identification to register. With that said, for those of us who do have access, exercising the opportunity to vote is paramount and the time is now.   The editorial board is composed of Alyssa Bruce, Julia Furukawa and Ray Garcia.

Illustration by Cole Sandhofer

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