As midterm elections drew closer, many students understood and spread the importance of voting. Unlike the presidential elections, which tend to be fairly straightforward, midterm election ballots can be hard to understand, especially for first-time voters.
To aid students in understanding why they’re voting and what they’re voting for, Democracy Matters held “What’s at Stake for You? 10 Critical Issues in this Election and Beyond,” on Nov. 1 in the Honors Center.
“Democracy Matters works to put an end to political corruption. More specifically, we focus on a variety of social justice issues that fall under the umbrella of money in politics,” said fourth-year sociology and psychology major Ellie Condelles, president of the SUNY New Paltz chapter of Democracy Matters.
The event featured an intimate talk by Dr. Joan Mandel, professor of sociology at Colgate University and executive director of the nationwide chapter of Democracy Matters.
“Her vast political knowledge is essential at a time like this and we were so honored to have her,” said Dr. Karl Bryant, associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Mandel highlighted the 10 key issues she found most important to keep in mind when voting in the midterm elections: climate change, gun violence, immigration, dreamers, cost of college, Roe v. Wade, economy, sexual harassment, race and democracy.
Mandel then went on to speak about who has the “real power” to decide who gets elected. Though we’re taught to believe it is the voters, Mandel explained, the power of voters is in direct conflict with big money.
According to Mandel, over 90 percent of state and congressional races are won by whichever candidate spends more money. The 2016 election, she explained, was the most expensive election in U.S. history.
“In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ‘Citizens United’ decision (a decision that a large, bipartisan majority of U.S. citizens think was a mistake), corporate dollars play an ever-increasing role in U.S. politics,” Condelles said. “Mandel laid out for us the effects of those changes, and things that are being done and what we as voters, citizens and residents of the U.S. can do to stand up to the influence of big money in politics.”
Along with explaining the socioeconomic issues to take into consideration, Mandel also stressed the importance of voting.
“Voting is the way you personally can stand up and be counted,” Mandel said. “Every single vote is going to be sending a message to our president and congress about what type of country we want.”
Mandel laid out some scary statistics in terms of voter turnout, via an activity where she had everyone in the room stand up. With the whole crowd standing, she explained that everyone in the room represented an eligible voter in the U.S. She then asked 1/3 of the room to take a seat and said that those who remained standing were citizens who actually registered to vote.
After another third of the room took a seat, leaving only 1/3 standing, she explained how this handful of people represented the number of registered voters who actually submitted a ballot in the last midterm elections. She summed the numbers up, explaining that 2/3 of eligible voters didn’t vote, and 80 percent of young adults didn’t vote.
“Young people, including students, have some of the lowest voter turnout rates in this country, a country that has abysmal voter turnout rates in general, compared to other democracies,” Bryant said. “If young people voted at the same rate that older people vote, the outcome of our elections would change dramatically.”