This year is a special one for me, as it’s the first general election I have ever been able to vote in! I remember going with my mom to her polling place when I was too young to fully understand who she was voting for or why, but I do remember her telling me in the primary election of 2008 that she was voting for our first female president, and she told me the same thing again in 2016, but this time I was old enough to know I was wishing I could do the same thing. Now, I’ve already voted early because I couldn’t wait any longer to exercise this ability I’ve been dying to be given for years. I excitedly filled out my ballot and displayed my “I Voted Early!” sticker on my chest, but even while I was thinking about how long I had waited for this chance, I couldn’t help but remember what I have heard from adults and on the media nearly my whole life: young people aren’t educated enough on our world to be able to vote, and their votes don’t matter anyways because there aren’t enough of them showing up to the polls to make a difference. Is this what we as a generation really want to be known for? When we show up to vote, do we want people to be surprised to see someone as young as we are, or do we want them to expect more of us to be there on election day?

In an age where political polarization and tensions between parties seem to be rising faster than ever, being educated on what we are able to vote on is so crucial. The internet makes it easier than anything now to simply find your ballot for your area and learn about the candidates and issues up for election this year. Obtaining absentee ballots or voting by mail only require a few clicks and messages if you aren’t going to school where you’re a registered voter. And if you’re not a registered voter yet, there’s literally a code you can scan with your phone to register yourself in minutes. While this isn’t a purely freshman year issue, it’s an issue with being a college-aged student in America today. Older generations don’t believe we should have a voice as big as theirs, and we have to demonstrate that we do and we will. It’s hard not to be constantly exposed to all the bad we hear about politics and politicians today, but every few years we are given an opportunity to do something to change how our nation or state or district or county is being run. I came to the student center on a cold and rainy Saturday to vote and make my voice heard, and I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the same opportunity; most people don’t get a polling place right in their backyard. 

Rileigh Smirl can be contacted at [email protected]