White hand-made poster board sign with the words "Register to Vote" written on it leans against a folding table on a sidewalk. The sign has other information written on it about registering to vote and voting.

OPINION: Yes, Your Vote Matters

by Gordon McHenry

In a couple of weeks, Washington State will mail out ballots for one of the most critical elections of our lifetimes. While every election is important, this upcoming contest has the potential to alter the course of our nation for generations, so every vote will count. 

In the last presidential election, almost 77% of eligible, voting-age Washingtonians registered to vote — the highest percentage since 1984. However, turnout was only 65%. In King County, turnout declined by nearly 3% compared to 2012. Statewide, it went down by a similar amount.

While 65% turnout is high relative to other states, that leaves room for improvement. 

Too many of our family members, friends, and neighbors don’t vote because they think their vote doesn’t matter. It does. They think one vote will not change anything. They should think again — the 2000 presidential election was decided by just a few hundred votes in Florida. 

Black, Latino, Indigenous and other People of Color have much to gain by being properly represented, but they also have low turnout rates. The reasons vary but include historical and systemic racism, intimidation, as well as language and cultural barriers.

Young people, those aged 18–29, have one of the lowest voting rates of any age group. Unfortunately, that means that older people, who do show up at the polls in great numbers, will vote for candidates and issues that will affect the younger generation for years to come.  

Our elected officials, from the president to the U.S. Congress and all the way down to the county and city councils, pass laws and regulations on issues that affect every single one of us. That includes homelessness and hunger, healthcare, racial and gender discrimination, climate change and more. 

In the time of COVID, that also means that our representatives in Congress, state legislatures, and our local councils decide what kind of assistance to provide to those suffering economically from the coronavirus pandemic.

We should remain engaged and focused on issues that affect us all year long and put pressure on lawmakers by showing that we care. That means making calls, writing letters, sending emails, peacefully demonstrating on the streets and in front of city hall. And, especially in years like this, that also means voting because our votes keep politicians accountable for their actions.

If we don’t vote, we’re telling politicians that their actions don’t matter to us, that our voice doesn’t matter. Some people say that their vote won’t make a difference, so they don’t bother. But not voting certainly won’t make a difference. Some elected officials actually rely on large numbers of eligible voters not to cast ballots, so they feel free to make decisions that may not have full support from the citizens.

Our votes are not just for us. They are for our families and our communities. They are for those who don’t have their own voice in our democracy: those who don’t have homes to receive their voter registration or ballots; the young people who are not old enough to vote; immigrants and refugees who are not eligible to cast a ballot but who need a voice. 

Our votes represent our values and those of our communities. When we vote, we are telling everyone where we and our community stand on the issues of the day. 

And it’s important to vote in every election cycle, not just during presidential elections. Off-year elections, when every seat of the U.S. House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate are up for grabs, have huge implications for our future. The voters who show up at the polls for those elections have an impact on the federal judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

We are at a tipping point in our nation’s history, and every vote will count this November. So, do your research, stay informed, read the newspaper endorsements, listen to the politicians but watch their actions. But, most importantly, make sure you are registered and know the requirements for submitting your ballot. Then vote and convince your friends and family members who are on the fence to vote. 

Additional resources: 

You can register to vote online until Oct. 26.

Check whether you’re registered to vote.

Voting is easy in Washington: You can mail your ballot or drop it off at one of 72 drop boxes in King County.

Find a map of drop box locations here.

In October 2019, Gordon McHenry, Jr. took the role of president & CEO of United Way of King County. United Way is a nonprofit organization that brings people together to give, volunteer, and take action to help people in need and solve our community’s toughest challenges. United Way works to ensure people have homes, students graduate, and families are financially stable.

Featured image is attributed to Risingthermals under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.