President Harris Wants You to Vote

November 3, 2016


The USD Vista Student Newspaper

The first time I walked into a voting booth I was six years old. No, I wasn’t violating the election laws of my home state. I was accompanying my grandmother as she cast her vote in the 1964 presidential election. Lyndon B. Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater. I distinctly remember her commenting on how important the election was to the future of our country and why every vote mattered.

When she picked me up after school that day to join her as she cast her vote, I noticed that she was dressed in her Sunday-best clothing. To her, voting wasn’t something that she was taking for granted; it was a right and a privilege she had as a citizen of the United States and something she refused to take lightly. It didn’t matter to her how long she needed to wait in line to vote. It was important enough to her that she made the time, and nothing would prevent her from exercising her right.

You see, my grandmother was a refugee from Russia, whose family had been persecuted because of their religious and political beliefs. She vividly remembered hiding under the floor boards of her family home in Russia as soldiers stormed into her living room looking for her father. To her the freedom she had earned by becoming an American citizen was one of the most cherished gifts she had ever received.

This left an indelible impression on me. The passion she felt for our democracy was only surpassed by the love of her family and her faith in God. As I grew up, I watched her steadfast commitment to these values and was inspired by her belief that her grandson would have a better life because she took seriously her responsibility, her privilege, to vote.

Since the election of 1964, the population of United States citizens who are eligible to vote has more than doubled, and yet the percentage of citizens voting in a presidential election year has never been as high as that day that I entered the voting booth with my grandmother. Throughout my adult life I have made it a point to vote in every national election and have spent considerable time working with colleagues across the country to encourage young people to vote.

Unfortunately, young voters (people between 18-29 years old) are less likely to vote in a presidential election than any other age cohort of Americans. What this means is that the concerns and legitimate issues college-age students want addressed are often not attended to by elected officials in DC. They know who votes and who doesn’t, and therefore the concerns of young people often go unheard.

At USD we are committed to educating students for responsible democratic citizenship. Our campus is filled with conscientious people who are open minded, well informed and truly seek to bring about positive change in the world. It has been thrilling for me to engage in conversations with so many of you who care about the key issues of our times. You are passionate about the things you value and are willing to commit considerable hours of hard work to accomplish your goals.

Yet, too often, I hear students say that they are turned off by politics and don’t believe that voting will make any real difference. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Every vote does count.

In your lifetime, you have seen firsthand a national presidential election hang in the balance as individual votes were recounted in Florida. In your lifetime, there have been certain local and state elections that have been won and referendums passed by only a few hundred votes. Clearly your vote does count, and if you choose to sit on the sidelines, you are forfeiting a precious right that most people in the world do not possess.

On the USD Changemaker Hub website we ask the question: “What will you do while you are at USD to be in the service of an issue that matters to you?” No matter how you answer that question, the best first step is to exercise your constitutional right and vote on November 8. Be a true Changemaker: vote.

James THarris III, DEd