In 2015, every time you ran over a pothole, read about the effects of climate change, complained about a medical bill, worried for the safety of your country, protected your data online, voiced your opinion about immigration, or mourned the loss of lives in a terrorist attack, you probably asked yourself one question: What can I do?
For 2016, the answer may be simpler than you imagined: vote.
In a country where discussion is currently dominated by topics from refugees to education, and in a time period where it is easier than ever to express one's opinion, many of us are neglecting to exercise our most basic right as citizens of the United States: voting, and as a result we are compromising the liberty that makes this country so great.
A lack of attention on our voter turnout proves we underestimate the severity of the issue. In the 2012 Presidential Election, only 57.5% of eligible voters turned out to vote. In the 2014 Midterm Elections, only 36.7% of eligible voters turned out to vote, our lowest turnout in over 70 years. The United States is ranked 120th in the world for voter turnout, placing us far below most developed and developing nations in the same metric that is frequently used to measure the strength of a democracy. For a country that is famous for exemplifying the democratic-republic, we are lagging behind in the most crucial aspect of one.
The problem doesn't stop there. According to CIRCLE, only 21.5% of eligible young Americans (aged 18-29) voted in 2014, a number so miniscule for a generation that without fail plays one of the most important roles in current political discourse. The same people who don't vote are the ones who are protesting, starting movements on social media, and expressing their opinions on a daily basis. So while our nation as a whole already has an abysmal voting rate, our most involved citizens, the young people seeking to enact social and economic change, cannot see the correlation between voting and civic empowerment.
Why exactly does this happen? Political scientists believe the issue is multi-faceted, and the problem may correlate to our system of opt-in voter registration, a lack of education on civic duty, and a sheer lack of attention towards the issue. Regardless of the cause, for now, we need to realize as a society that we cannot continue to complain, debate, and protest our country's current situation, whether at the local or national level, without taking matters in to our own hands in the simplest way: exercising our right to vote.
You might question, "Why should I vote when my vote doesn't matter?" What you should be questioning instead, is what would happen if everyone who didn't vote in 2014 decided to vote in 2016. The result is simple, those votes would be the majority, and the country we live in could be entirely different. Right now, when voting rates are all-time lows, your vote counts more than ever. While voting democratic won't turn Texas blue and voting republican won't turn California red, your vote in a primary will contribute to choosing the candidates who compete in the general election, your vote in a mayoral election can determine if those potholes outside your house actually get fixed, and your vote in a school-board election can determine if children in your community get the best education they possibly can.
The same argument holds for those who claim they don't vote because "there are no good candidates," or "the winners are already chosen." While you will likely never find a politician you completely agree with or a system that is completely fair, you aren't supposed to be voting for an ideal candidate in an ideal system, but rather for the best candidate in our current system. Contrary to popular belief, all politicians are not the same, and a quick look at voting records, campaign websites, and public statements should suffice to show how different they really are.
For the 2016 Presidential election, over a dozen people are running for the most powerful position in the world, surely there is a candidate you share a majority of your beliefs with. A simple online search or two hours of your time spent watching the debates will offer you more than enough information to decide who deserves your vote.
While 2015 was a year of debate, discussion, and social change, it was also a year filled with some of the most controversial political statements made in the history of this country. In 2015, we chose not to stand by and watch when things went wrong, but rather to get involved and to share our opinion. In 2016, it's time to take the next step and work towards tangible change. In 2016, your vote can define policy on immigration, taxation, technology, guns, healthcare, and hundreds of other issues that you likely already have an opinion on.
In the next few weeks, while you decide your New Year's Resolutions regarding your health, habits, and choices, add another to the one list, one that can impact every aspect of yourself, determine the opportunities you have, and govern the life you live.
For 2016, resolve to vote, and to take advantage of your most powerful right as an American Citizen.