By Kassondra Cloos
For the vast majority of current college students, the 2012 presidential election is a major first. Most of us were a few years or a few days too young to have a say in the historic 2008 election. But this year, for the first time, we actually have the chance to impact the race for the next president of the United States.
Take this opportunity and run with it.
North Carolina is a battleground state, which means its electoral votes could go either way. The state swung in favor of President Barack Obama in 2008, but it was only by a small margin. As a result, your voice is louder here than it may be in your home state, which may already be pegged as red or blue.
If you haven’t requested an absentee ballot for your home state, consider registering in Alamance County, where you spend most of your year. It’s legal for out of state students to vote here because it’s almost impossible to know for sure where they’ll head after graduation. Unless you are 100 percent sure you are going to move back to your home state after you leave Elon, you’re not doing anything wrong by changing your registration and voting in North Carolina.
Your opinion really counts, and it’s both a privilege and a duty to use that voice responsibly. Don’t just listen to your friends or your parents, and don’t decide solely based on political debates or the appearance of a candidate.
I’ve heard a lot of college students — and, sadly, tax-paying adults with full-time jobs — say they don’t vote because they don’t know what they’re doing. They say they don’t want to be part of the problem. It’s true that ill-informed voters are a hazard. But the answer isn’t to simply refrain from voting. The answer is to educate yourself. Don’t hold your vote hostage because you can’t find the time to research the people who make more decisions about how you are allowed to live your life than you do.
Take some time to think about what really makes you tick. Is it gay rights? Defense spending? Is it student loans, taxes, healthcare or foreign policy? Decide what you want from your president and congressmen and then determine which candidate can best give it to you.
Look at the candidates’ campaign websites, but don’t trust them. They’re trying to appeal to moderate voters, and they’re intentionally vague about what they believe so they can get votes. Instead of taking what you hear or read for face value, do your own research and look up their voting records on important issues at votesmart.org or govtrack.us.
It’s easy to line up your core values with those in either the Republican or Democratic parties and then just vote a straight ticket. But remember, not every politician is the same, and we often see them cross party lines in a few significant ways. Not every Republican is against same-sex marriage, and not every Democrat supports abortion.
If you’ve never voted, make this your first election, and be sure it’s not your last. It’s easy to let life get in the way of staying informed enough to criticize your government. But keep in mind that while voting is a right afforded to every American citizen, complaining about the government is a privilege. And it’s reserved for those who have enough self-respect to exercise their right to cast a ballot.