This weekend, I cast my first ballot in a general election. I, like many Columbia undergraduates, registered to vote at my family’s home address—all the way in Los Angeles. And so, with that first vote comes a certain removal, a political homesickness. My first step into political adulthood is to mail in a ballot to a state I’m no longer sure I can call home.
This kind of dissociation speaks to a broader irony among undergraduates: for many of us, the first opportunity to have a say in the government of the place we’ve grown up in comes at the precise moment when we leave. College students are stuck in civic limbo, caught between the places we come from and the places we live.
It’s no wonder then that, according to a study of nearly 10 million college students nationwide, fewer than half turned out to vote in the last election. Getting people to vote in the U.S. is hard enough already, but it’s even harder when those people don’t feel connected to what they’re voting for. The votes we cast can feel futile, a drop in the proverbial bucket.
So why should students vote? Why should we cast our ballots thousands of miles away from the places where they matter?On a personal level, voting can be an educational tool, a complement to the academic instruction we receive every day. The act of voting clarifies our positions on the issues that we’ve already considered, and at its best, has us learn about the ones we have never entertained before. I frankly had no opinion on profit caps for dialysis clinics until the issue appeared on my state’s ballot this cycle, and if I hadn’t voted, I likely would’ve stayed ignorant. Voting isn’t just for the informed citizen; it makes the informed citizen.
All the students who vote in this cycle have made the choice between registering at their Columbia address or their home address. For those of us who come from outside the city, choosing to register at home means sacrificing electoral control over our day-to-day lives in New York. When we vote from our home addresses, we make a meaningful commitment to remain a part of the communities in which we grew up.
Beyond creating political engagement, voting can be an act of self-affirmation. It is one of the purest ways of expressing belonging to a group. Voting asserts that your voice in the community, however small, is worth hearing. Voting in a home election is a lifeline to the places that made us who we are, and an assurance that we can always go back. When we cast a ballot for our hometowns, we’re not only staying informed, but maintaining a stake in the places that we love.
Voting is an opportunity for introspection, a chance for each of us to decide where our values really lie—not only on issues of policy, but on questions of identity.
I am a Californian. I live, for now, in New York City. I still don’t quite understand the politics of dialysis clinics. But most important of all: I Voted.
You should too.
Charlie Noxon is a sophomore in Columbia College and an associate editorial page editor for Spectator. He can be reached at email@example.com for questions, concerns, or fun facts about bears. Did you know koalas aren’t actually bears? There’s more where that came from.
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