The Anxiety of Voting

I thought voting would be a lot cooler than it actually is. My excitement about exercising my right as an adult citizen died once I opened my vote-by-mail ballot envelope. Maybe it’s the fact that the ballot resembles a Scantron on steroids, but voting is very, very intimidating. Last week, I opened my booklet, stared at the choices, hyperventilated and did what college students do: procrastinated.

As I write this, my ballot is still shoved under piles of homework on my desk. I’ve marked a total of two choices for elected officials and haven’t even ventured to the endless list of propositions yet. It’s not that I don’t know my stance on most issues. My political opinions are firm, and had you asked me in conversation about my voting choices, I wouldn’t have hesitated. I should have been able to fill out my ballot in a matter of minutes, but instead, I’ve put it off like everything else I’d like to avoid in hopes that it’ll just cease to be a problem.

That didn’t work out too well for me. The big symbol of my civic duty as a participant in a democratic society still exists, making me feel pathetic with its vast expanse of blank circles.

Maybe that’s the problem. Although I know that an individual vote doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of electoral colleges, I still care what I mark on that ballot. With the right to vote comes a certain responsibility, after all. We’ve all been taught that democracy doesn’t work unless its members participate. So if you do nothing else, this vote is your contribution, your input to your community.

Under the barrage of lackluster debates and negative ads, I’ve become desensitized to the political horse race, and with the stagnant, gridlocked state of today’s government, I’ve become disillusioned with vague, sweeping claims about change and improvement. So the anxiety that first-time voting gives me is accompanied by some relief. It means that despite my tired cynicism about politics, I still haven’t given up on the democratic system. I still think that even if my actual vote won’t make a difference, the act of casting a ballot has some significance. The fact that I can means a lot, so why shouldn’t I take it seriously?

Many of my peers are also voting for the first time this November. I’m sure most of my friends aren’t as neurotic as I am about it, but they aren’t totally brushing it off, either. It’s actually … sort of a big deal. Telling others that you voted is like wearing a badge of your passage into adulthood.

As much as it looks like one, a ballot isn’t an exam. There aren’t any right or wrong answers, and my vote alone won’t have drastic consequences. However, the fact that most people who vote take their civic responsibility seriously means that our democracy can function. Despite how you feel about our political system, taking some time to vote fulfills your obligation to your community. The only way you can fail this test is by not caring.

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