by Judge Tom Jacobs
Dear readers: The following blog post was written by Free Spirit author Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D., for you to share with the teens and young adults in your lives prior to Election Day. We hope it generates some rich discussion. Feel free to leave comments and invite young readers to comment, too.
What if you were suspended from school for a month and not told why? What if you were suddenly required to take random drug tests at school, regardless of whether you played sports? Or worse, what if tomorrow you were struck with a stick by your school principal and left with bruises and welts?
What do these scenarios have in common? All of them represent real court cases that have been considered by the United States Supreme Court over the years and were decided by a single vote.
In 1967, the Supreme Court declared that teenagers and children have constitutional rights. Dozens of Supreme Court decisions like those above regarding young people in America have been decided by a vote of five to four (of the nine justices on the Supreme Court). The cases cover important aspects of your life as a student including freedom of association, nonviolent demonstrations, gun control, profanity, and your rights at school to participate in prayer and clubs. If the vote in these cases had gone the other way, the freedoms and protections you enjoy as a young person today would be seriously curtailed.
You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with me?” After all, you’re not a Supreme Court justice, so you don’t get a say in cases like these, right? Wrong. While you may not have an actual vote in the courtroom, you do have a say in who does have a vote.
By casting a vote for president, every U.S. citizen—including you when you turn 18—has a say in who gets appointed to the Supreme Court. This is because the Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and, upon confirmation by the Senate, the appointment is for life. So when a justice retires or dies the president gets to choose a new justice. The point here is simple: every vote counts not just in deciding who sits in the Oval Office every four years, but also who sits in the highest court of the land for their entire lives.
Now, you may think, “But my vote is just one of millions. How can it really matter?” True, you have only one vote, but that vote is crucial. Why? Read on.
The president of the United States is elected through a combination of the popular vote (yours and mine) and the electoral vote. In order to win the presidential election, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes. Each state has a certain number of electoral votes based on the two senators every state has, plus the total number of members they have in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives for each state is based on the state’s population according to the U.S. Census taken every 10 years. For example, California is the most populous state in the nation, so it has the most electoral votes with 55. Alaska is among the least populous, so it has only three electoral votes. During the election on November 6, each state’s total number of electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins that state’s popular vote.
So, can just one citizen’s popular vote make a difference in how many electoral votes a candidate receives? Yes, it can. And every electoral vote a candidate receives is critical. In fact, in 1876 the entire presidential election was decided by just one electoral vote. It can happen again. Don’t let your vote be the one that might have decided an election . . . if only you would have cast it.
It might be hard to believe, but a recent study by the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate estimates that 90 million voter-eligible Americans won’t vote this November. Why? They’re either too busy, they aren’t excited about either candidate, or they think their vote doesn’t matter. All of these are inexcusable reasons to stay away from the voting booth. In addition, by failing to vote on Election Day, you are essentially letting other voters—who you may not agree with—make decisions about your life for you.
In August of this year, one of the presidential candidates addressed a rally of 13,000 students at Colorado State University. He said, “I just want all of you to understand your power. Don’t give it away—not when you’re young. Right now, America is counting on you. Your vote matters.”
The bottom line is: every vote counts at election time. There are many pressing issues before us in this country that cannot be ignored or resolved without each citizen’s input. Your voice, by way of your vote, is needed. So get to the polls on November 6, bring a friend (or five), and participate! (If you can’t yet vote, urge your family members, friends, and neighbors to.) The fate of our nation—and your freedom as a young person—rests in your hands.
“One who does not vote has no right to complain.”—Louis L’Amour, American writer and storyteller, 1908–1988
Judge Jacobs is the author of a forthcoming book on this topic, tentatively titled How One Vote Can Shape a Nation and Your Life (Free Spirit Publishing, 2015), as well as What Are My Rights?, They Broke the Law—You Be the Judge, and Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.
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