Educate yourself or just stay home

On Monday night I watched the final presidential debate. I then tuned in to a YouTube Live Stream video of presidential candidate Gary Johnson discussing the debates with Internet personalities Phillip DeFranco and Elliot C. Morgan.

Following the video feed I read a few articles and editorials, looked into a few fact-checking websites, and had a handful of Facebook conversations about various political topics, including the benefits and disadvantages of voting for a third party candidate.

This is a pretty normal amount of daily political research for me. So I often get caught off-guard by people who are way more turned-off by the political sphere.

I understand politics can be scary or annoying. Politics seems to be little more than a bunch of (mostly) men shouting at one another, as their citizens follow suit. From bumper stickers, to coffee cups, to ads on Hulu, there is a lot of loud noise coming at you from all directions.

Like many people, I don’t like loud noises, and certainly I don’t like how polarizing dirty politics can become.

But I don’t think politics need to be polarizing or dirty. Despite all the negative factors, I do think that there is something beautiful about dialogue being created amongst a group of people surrounding meaningful and impactful topics.

Especially if, as is the case for myself and many other college students, this is the first time you get to really have a voice on issues.

There is something exciting about your first ever presidential election. You feel empowered. You feel invested. You feel as if — for the first time in your (however short) adult life — you could make a difference. Your vote counts in a democracy. You matter because you have a vote.

But if you are not willing to educate yourself on who and what you are voting for, I beg you — PLEASE stay home on Election Day.

Now, this sound contrary to things I’ve said in the past. I’ve spent a lot of energy the last three months encouraging every adult I know to register to vote. I really support the idea that every vote does matter in the election outcome.

However, with the right to a voice in democracy comes the responsibility to educate yourself on where your vote is going. An uneducated vote is far worse than no vote at all.

Fortunately, we live in the age of research, so educating yourself is not difficult.

Figure out how much research is enough for you. Maybe that just means skimming the Wikipedia pages of each candidate. Maybe that means tuning into the debates and reading opinion editorials on various issues. Maybe you rely on your friends to tell you about who they are voting for and why.

This will be different for everyone. For example, while I find debates to be a great tool in educating voters, my roommate refuses to watch debates and instead just skips ahead to looking up fact checking websites the next morning. And while we may have differing political opinions, it doesn’t matter because both our opinions are educated.

For me, “enough” research means figuring out who is on enough state ballots to hypothetically win the minimum required Electoral votes, and devoting time to figuring out who I think would best serve our country and represent my own personal stance on politics. I look into both partisan and nonpartisan sources, and try to get information whenever and wherever it is available.

This may take a lot of effort, but I know that I am using my vote in the absolute best way I possibly can. I understand that what constitutes “enough” for other people may be a lot less work.

But the reward of this labor is getting to voice an opinion that carries weight.

A good friend of mine recently referred to me as a “Political Pokemon” that he could summon at a moment’s notice to discuss the election and the candidates/issues on the ballot because I care enough to research the topics.

ANNA uses OPINION EDITORIAL COLUMN. It’s super effective!

Of course, whether a person listens to my opinions or not is their choice (and I certainly hope I am not forcing them onto anyone). But at least I do my democratic duty in forming those opinions before I put them out there.

If you aren’t willing to do that work this election, just don’t bother with voting. My vote will actually matter in this election. Will yours?

Anna Mitchell is a junior liberal arts major. Her columns appear Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.