"Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

― Abraham Lincoln

As we enter another season of political decision-making, we brace ourselves for the TV ads, campaign signs, and the fights. And at the end of this high stakes mid-term election on November 6, some of us will have voted. By November 7, all of us will be subject to those results. I’m not here to talk about the winners and the losers. I’m not here to tell you what to think and for whom you should vote. I am here however to persuade you to be a participant in this critically important process.

Voting is not only a responsibility, but also a privilege we should not take for granted. It hasn’t even been 100 years since women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. And it was only 53 years ago that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed the legal barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment. Yet there is evidence that voter suppression and disenfranchisement continues today.

More than twenty countries have some form of compulsory voting. There are pros and cons to this regimented approach to civic duty. But it does solidify the role of a citizen and the obligations of that citizenship. The goal is to make sure that each person ultimately feels obligated to have a say in what’s going on. How can that obligation be achieved in our nation?

Part of the answer is changing your perspective. As a student, your priorities are probably some combination of study hard, get good grades, have some fun, get the degree, and get a job. But don’t let your personal self-interest allow you to become isolationist. We’re all in this together. You cannot just postpone involvement until you are ready –critical decisions are being made now! Decisions which ultimately will influence our collective future, and over which you have influence.

Get to know the issues which are important to you. Perhaps you are motivated by a desire to prevent the rollback of environmental protection laws. Maybe you are intimately touched by immigration policies or are passionate about what should be done to prevent gun violence. Formulate a viewpoint based upon your life experiences and your evolving knowledge base. Listen to (and understand) the viewpoints of others. Determine who best shares your views. Support and vote for those chosen. Simple.

I understand it can take time to know the issues and research the alternatives and the choices. Do the best you can – you aren’t being graded! Perhaps the most formidable barrier may be an attitude issue -- does your vote really matter? In a word, yes! You’re only one person, but so is everyone else who votes. It is the people who turn out to vote that become much more powerful compared to those who stay home.

Register to vote! Be an intellectual and think about the issues! And then, VOTE! Better yet, bring someone with you to vote – “+1 the vote” as MTV calls it! And join with other students working to get out the vote. In the School of Public Health, you can be a part of our PHACE (Public Health Action for Civic Engagement) organization that is partnering with TerpsVote to turn out UMD students to the polls!

Boris D. Lushniak. MD, MPH
Dean and Professor
University of Maryland, School of Public Health