Recently I heard Charles Barley say in an interview that he hasn’t decided if he’s going to vote in this election. “I take my vote very seriously,” he said. “So right now I haven’t made a decision if I’m going to vote or not.”
I like Mr. Barkley. He’s a role model for many young people and his generosity and leadership have made a real difference improving education in his home state of Alabama. But I have to disagree with him on this issue. The way I see it, choosing not to vote isn’t taking your vote seriously. It’s throwing away your power.
This election season, many young African American voters aren’t enthusiastic about the Presidential candidates. Some may not go to the polls. We live in a free country and voters get to make decisions for themselves about how or even whether to vote. But for anyone considering staying home this Election Day, my question is this: if you don’t vote, are you prepared to live with the results, knowing that you could have made a difference but chose not to?
There’s simply too much at stake. When it comes to issues important to African Americans—reforming the criminal justice system, improving access to quality education, creating good jobs—achieving lasting change requires more than just awareness. It requires action. This election won’t just determine our next President, but will set the course in our states and local communities for the years ahead. On November 8th, Americans will choose the entire U.S. House of Representatives, one-third of the seats in the U.S. Senate, many gubernatorial races, and thousands of races and ballot initiatives nationwide.
That’s why not voting is not an option.
Our democracy isn’t perfect, and this campaign has had more than its share of disappointing moments. But when our political system isn’t working the way we want, that’s all the more reason to get involved instead of standing on the sidelines. We have to do everything in our power to shape the direction our country takes.
It’s especially important for your voice to be heard at a time when voting rights that African Americans fought and died for in the last century are under threat. Lawmakers in more than 30 states have introduced voter suppression legislation, with laws passing in 14 states and still pending in eight. The League of Women Voters has fought against these discriminatory laws, and in North Carolina, led a lawsuit this year that resulted in a federal appeals court overturning a controversial law that restricted early voting and eliminated same-day registration. These laws make it significantly harder for millions of eligible voters to cast their ballots. So now more than ever, Black Americans need to make it clear that they won’t be silenced at the ballot box.
The League of Women Voters has programs to educate high school students about voting and to register college students. Voters can visit VOTE411.org to get information on early voting options, find out if voter IDs are required in your state and to learn more about candidates up and down the ballot.
Voting is a powerful way to bring about lasting change. We are all equals on Election Day and we can’t give that power up.
Dr. Wylecia Wiggs Harris is the Chief Executive Officer of the League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters Education Fund.