The Founding Fathers had a revolutionary idea in 1789. Every four years, American citizens would have the opportunity to peacefully overthrow their government.
Nearly 8,000 men died in the revolution to secure that right. It took a bloody civil war to constitutionally guarantee black men the right to vote. Women protested for their ability to cast a ballot for over 70 years. Activists gave their lives in the mid-20th century to finally secure black voting rights.
Yet, according to the Federal Election Commission, just 54.87 percent of voting-age Americans cast a vote for president in 2012, less than 225 years after the Constitution’s ratification.
It is a sad reality that some are unable to vote due to any combination of factors, but that does not excuse the low turnout among college students.
This year, two diametrically opposed presidential candidates are face-to-face, but—and arguably more importantly—435 members of the House and 34 Senate seats are up for election as well. That does not include state legislators, the people who make the laws governing Americans’ everyday lives.
While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hope to receive a plurality of the popular vote, the percentage of voting-eligible Americans who will stay home on election day will far surpass those who vote for any single presidential candidate. That means if every eligible voter who did not vote in the 2012 election chose to vote for a candidate other than Romney or Obama, the outcome could have been far different.
This election is unique in both its length and the fervor of both major parties’ candidates’ supporters. While it is likely that neither Trump or Clinton will be as destructive as their detractors claim, they would both portray a different image of the U.S. abroad and pursue contrasting legislative agendas at home. Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty, candidates for Pennsylvania junior senator, would execute their duties differently according to their interests. That list is continuous down to state representatives, mayors and school board members.
More importantly, when a ballot is cast, it is not cast only in support of a specific candidate. Every vote on election day is cast in favor of democracy, the Constitution and accountability. Every vote not cast threatens the very foundation of American republicanism and the spirit of democracy.
Americans will elect an entirely new government, including the legislature and head of state, today. The implication of every choice is profound, and it is our civic duty to make those decisions.