Democracy for Portland State

Why should you, dear reader, vote?

We are about to become acolytes to that almighty shrine of democracy: the ballot box. The polls for the Associated Students of Portland State University elections close on April 23, just a few days from now, and all PSU students are eligible to vote.

Inundated with campaign information from across campus, I ask myself, why should I vote? What has ASPSU ever done for me? Apparently, I, by my status as a student, am an ASPSU member. So I sat down to ask myself, “Why I should care about this election?”

And then I realized, it’s not because I care about the ASPSU government, but it is because I have not only the right, but the obligation, to vote.

I vote for the basic reason that it is my democratic duty, and transcending that duty is the fact that I can help usher in the change that I want to see. Now, I will grant that the ASPSU election is the Brigadoon of electoral politics. Students have a profound lack of knowledge regarding the candidates, and outside influences seem far away and of little importance.

The ASPSU government acts, essentially, as messengers. While a few small and inconsequential decisions are made by the ASPSU government, the school administration—rightly so—has the final word. The ASPSU makes recommendations and generally acts as a voice for the student body—a weak, rather ineffective voice. But it’s still a voice, a voice for us, the students. Unfortunately, if I were to ask 10 random classmates if they knew what the ASPSU government does, not 1 in that 10 could tell me.

This is likely the biggest reason PSU students don’t vote. In each election for representatives and leaders in student government, less than 10 percent of the student body casts a ballot. Oftentimes, less than 5 percent vote. A big part of this reason is that students here don’t know what ASPSU does. They have little to no idea what the ASPSU leaders can do for them or why they should care. In the end, the vast majority of students don’t treat these as real elections.

But this is a real election—an election for real people, in places of real(ish) power that can make decisions that could affect the student body as a whole.

Who you vote for is less important, in the grand scheme of things, than the fact that you voted at all. Think of it as the opening act to this opera we call life—a practice run preparing us for the big leagues. Walt Whitman wrote, “O democracy, near at hand to you, a throat is now inflating itself and joyfully singing.” He might have been a bit wrapped up in the flag, but the sentiment remains the same even here, now, on this campus. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, even if you think your vote is just a drop in an ocean, it’s a right we have that so few historically have had. Don’t squander it.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. Alea jacta est. The die is cast.