Verbum Ultimum: Enter the Electorate
Hard fought rights will be lost without use.
For most of the nation’s history, it was rare to see a Dartmouth student in the electorate. Even in times, when the compositions of both the College and electorate were dominated by white, male landowners, voting was a right unavailable to those under the age of 21. This changed with the 26th Amendment in the wake of the Vietnam War, during which many Americans protested the civic injustice in people without say in the political system being drafted to fight in a war they could not stop.
Only a few years prior, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to ensure the enfranchisement of minority populations across the United States, especially in the ostensibly desegregated South. The women’s suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century heralded the 19th Amendment and female vote in 1920.
Indeed, one may interpret the moral arc of American history as a struggle of continued enfranchisement; many of the nation’s most seminal Amendments, including the 19th, 15th, 14th and 13th, were products of concerted efforts to expand the electorate and ensure political equality. Voting is a historical rarity, right and privilege that hundreds of millions in the U.S. now have access to. While it is the right of every citizen to decline from voting, it is almost unquestionably in each citizen’s civic duty to cast a ballot.
As the 2018 midterm elections near, questions of enfranchisement again dominate national conversation. While this discussion is wont to occur on the eve of any major election, the 2018 midterms have seen a special focus on voting rights from both sides of the aisle.
In 2017, the Trump Administration announced the creation of a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” a group meant to combat voter fraud and other malfeasance many conservatives perceived in the electoral system. The administration stated that the group is meant to target “fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting,” claims that many liberals cried were coded language used to justify voter suppression.
Republican efforts across the country emulate this trend. In Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, voter I.D. laws have been attacked as partisan and racist attempts at voter suppression. The decommissioning of polling places to otherwise unserved populations and increased purging of voter registration rolls in recent years have caused concern that the electoral system is being cheated.
Dartmouth students are familiar with such fights, the New Hampshire State Assembly having waged a now two year-long legislative and legal campaign to stop out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire. While there are valid arguments about the logic and validity of out-of-state students voting away from home, many note the naked partisanship of recent legislation.
Democrats and liberal aligned groups have conversely touted the expansion of voting as integral to both the health of the country and as a keystone electoral strategy. Students who have been approached by the Dartmouth Democrats’ should know this fact well.
Regardless of political affiliation, concerns over the integrity of American democracy are warranted in this fraught time. Acrimonious, crass and violent language stains public discourse, most notably emanating from the Oval Office. Discourse on how polarized and uncompromising Americans have become of the opposing political tribe are ubiquitous in the mainstream media and well-modeled online.
It’s inaccurate to think that the result of the 2018 midterms will herald the end of the republic, regardless of the results. Given the dangerous moment the nation is in, however, it should be clear that this election is pivotal in determining the trajectory of America for the foreseeable future and possibly long after. Eligible students cannot sit on the sidelines when this moment demands every American’s voice be heard.
Political operators in democracies have always relied on confusion, coercion and misinformation to deter populations from voting. In many parts of the country, these tactics are often fervently employed to disenfranchise demographics perceived as unfriendly to the opposition’s agenda.
Arguments that individual votes don’t matter in elections are also unacceptable, and voters who believe so enable a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only eligible citizens in a liberal democracy to whom elected officials are accountable are those vote. Much of the dissimilarities between the public and electorate opinion’s can be attributed to voter abstinence. Analyses have shown that if voter turnout were at or near 100 percent, politicians would be required to deliver more nuanced and geographically diverse campaigns, while discourse on issues as diverse as abortion, criminal justice, environmentalism, healthcare and public education would be wildly different.
Younger Americans stand to have a particularly outsized effect should they turn out in higher numbers for the midterms. Although millennials now comprise the largest generational group in the United States, Americans 35 and younger are far less likely to cast a ballot than their elders. It is then alarming to see the electorate deprived of the unique political insights and incentives that motivate younger voters.
The pressures of student loan debt, concerns about the impacts of climate change, and policy questions addressing an increasingly diverse, digitized and metropolitan country are disproportionately the concerns of younger Americans. None of these issues, as well as countless more, are likely to be addressed unless politicians are accountable to younger voters. For this to change, young people must vote.
Dartmouth students are well-positioned in the country to make their voices heard. Many students have wandered the girdled earth to find themselves at the College. While it remains an option for students to make their voice heard in New Hampshire this year, all eligible Dartmouth students must vote wherever they can.
It is the duty of informed citizens to engage with the political system, not only despite its faults but because of them. No matter how appealing political apathy may seem, no matter how infuriating the country’s often broken and bitter politics may be, now is not the time to disengage. The health and longevity of the country’s hard-fought liberal democracy depends on an engaged electorate. Hopefully, this chapter in the nation’s history again ends with an expanded electorate and a more perfect union.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.