Last year, I became a legal permanent resident of these United States. At a time when we are seen as more like the Divided States, I opted to become a permanent resident and I will likely seek citizenship when I become eligible in two years. Last month, I began to engage with the part of my community who are US citizens around the subject of voting. I cannot vote, so I posted on my social media accounts, “Please be my voice in this election, ask me how your vote affects my life!”
In mid-term and local elections, less than 50% of those eligible to vote actually do. Only in presidential elections does the average turnout get over 50%, but even then it’s still typically around only 60%. So, opinions of voters in our communities are often minority opinions. In addition to the eligible voters who choose not to vote, millions of Americans find themselves in positions like mine, where their citizenship status bars them from voting in federal elections. Millions of Americans are also too young to vote. Others have criminal records that bar them from voting, are unable to vote for health reasons, missed registration deadlines, are stuck at work, or the pandemic has made logistics too complicated and they give up trying.
Who votes makes a difference in what is prioritized. One researcher, in the report Why Voting Matters, shows how boosting turnout would lead to a more representative democracy. For example, higher turnout among the wealthy changes the legislative agenda: policymakers spend less time on bills relating to housing, welfare, and health care. They’re also less likely to pass anti-predatory lending statutes, expand children’s health insurance, or increase the minimum wage. Conversely, another study finds that higher turnout among the poor leads to higher spending on welfare programs. Counties with higher turnout receive more funding from the federal government, while districts with lower turnout have less influence on the policy positions taken by their representatives.
So I invite you to a space of the less powerful.
Legal residents like myself are directly impacted by the votes cast by people around us and your vote has a direct impact on nonvoters like me. If you decide to vote for a candidate who doesn't have a clear vision on how to fix our broken immigration system, you are deciding with your vote to target mixed status families that are often one degree of separation from you. They pay taxes, so if they get deported before their case is heard in court, we lose their contribution to our economy, not to mention the severe repercussions for the families left behind. Voting sets the agenda and the priorities. We need to think of one another's needs because we are all connected.
There is a phrase that represents the worldview of many indigenous peoples on this continent: tu eres mi otro yo, you are my other self. In other words, your values are important, but our collective wellbeing as humanity is as important. I believe deeply that as we gain the power of the vote, whether by age or by becoming US citizens, we have an obligation to generations to come. Our children’s children will have to deal with the decisions we make now.
My father-in-law became a US citizen 15 years ago at the age of 60. He understood that through his vote my voice was being heard, so he asked me every election, “Yesenia, how are we going to vote? What issues are going to affect us in the long run?” He passed away a few weeks ago, so we won’t vote together this year. Fortunately, I know many people right here in my community who also understand how important it is to care for each other and see voting as one way to express that care. I challenge you to get out and VOTE--not just to elect the people that will govern our county or our town, but to be a part of how your neighbors and future generations can have healthy, thriving, lives.