America has called itself a democracy for a long time, but we still don’t really have the whole voting thing down just yet. Compared to other countries, our voter turnout is distressingly low (at just below 60% for the 2016 presidential election). But guess what? We’ve got a big election coming up this November, which means it’s a big chance to do better. Are you ready to register to vote and then get out there and make your voice heard?
Now, the best way to get yourself pumped up for the Big Show in November is to participate in your state’s presidential primary. Primaries (and the odd caucus—here’s a guide to how it all works) are how the two major political parties choose their nominee for president. If you thought turnout was low for presidential elections, well, it’s even lower for primaries. But we think it’s time to turn that around too. So are five reasons why we think participating in your primary matters.
1. It’s a great way to learn more about the candidates
Sure, we see them on TV and social media, we listen to them on the radio and podcasts, we read articles and interviews and, even if we’d rather not, we see their ads again and again and again… but there’s nothing like spending time with the candidates when they come to an event near you. How do they really feel about the issues that affect you and your community? How do they interact with regular voters? How do they respond when they’re challenged by your neighbors on their positions or policies? This is the time to get to know who they are and what they stand for.
2. You get to participate in a national conversation
The candidate who wins the most primaries and caucuses earns the most delegates, and the candidate with the most delegates wins their party’s nomination. Sounds simple, except that it’s really not! It’s a complex process that goes on for months, and every state has a role to play. Even though the media plays up some states (Iowa <cough> New Hampshire) more than others, every voter who fills out a ballot has a say in who will be running for president, which is kind of a big deal.
3. You can learn all about those down-ballot races
Because it’s a presidential election year, a very bright spotlight is shining at all times on the presidential election, blinding us to almost any other contest on the ballot. But don’t forget those other races! Local elections have a huge impact on our daily lives, and during the primary you might also have a chance to cast a vote for state representative, or for a future US senator. It’s good to start learning about local elections and all the hot-button local issues now. For example, do you know who’s running for your local prosecutor?
4. You’ll be able to shape your party’s national platform
What’s the national platform? Each political party develops one, and it’s basically a set of principles and policies grounded in the beliefs and philosophy of that particular party. The party’s candidate has a big role to play in shaping that platform, and therefore setting the stage for the kind of policies and programs they will try to pursue as president. When we vote during the primaries, we’re voting for more than just a person: we’re voting for the values we want the eventual president to represent.
5. Voting strengthens our democracy
Voting in the primaries is an indication that you’re engaged in the political process and ready to have your voice heard. Participating in this way helps us feel and understand that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. So, yes, voting is about an individual’s right to have their voice heard, but it’s also about strengthening our democracy, ensuring that it truly represents the will of the people. If you vote in the primaries, you’re likely to vote in the big November election as well, and the more people who come out to vote, the more vibrant and representative our democracy will be.
When it comes down to it, voting in the primaries matters because VOTING MATTERS. We need everyone to register and we need everyone to come out during the primaries and then again on Election Day. No matter who your favorite candidate is, the important thing is to get out there, along with all your friends, family, and neighbors, and vote.