June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A few weeks ago, I voted in the New Jersey presidential primary. It was my first time ever voting, since I had turned 18, and even though New Jersey’s primary didn’t seem like it would matter much, I decided to take part anyway. (Spoiler alert: I’m not revealing any of my political leanings here, so don’t get your hopes up.) After casting my vote at the local public school, I got a ride home with a family friend from shul. He said to me something along the lines of, “Are you going to write for your column about voting for the first time?”

I answered in the negative, reasoning that the voting didn’t feel that significant and I didn’t feel like I had done anything that special.

He responded by saying, “But you got to vote! It is very important!”

That got me thinking about the implications of my vote and its importance—and just how important it is that I got to vote at all. I didn’t write about it back then, because of various other topics I wanted to address in my column, but I think now is a good time to look back at my voting experience and what I feel makes it significant. Why now? Well, given how the 2016 election is always on everyone’s minds, the topic of voting (whether in the primaries or the upcoming general election) is always important this year—especially as the election year keeps on dragging on and we risk becoming apathetic among all of the rhetoric and metaphorical mudslinging.

When I cast my vote for a certain presidential candidate whose name may start with a certain letter of the alphabet (I’m sorry but I truly do not want to give any hints), all I had to do was press a button. That’s how simple it was for me to exercise a unique democratic right. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are far too many places around the world where people don’t have that right. Totalitarian governments and dictatorships, whether seemingly benign or outwardly repressive, still exist. Yet we in America have had the fortune to be born into a country where we can have a small voice, through elections, in how our country is run. (Of course the voting system is not perfect, and I do know that there are voter-suppression problems in parts of the USA; there are also legitimate criticisms of the election process and the electoral college system. I’m not claiming that everything is flawless when it comes to voting.)

Voting is also a way to take action in a small way to effect change, in a tangible way. One vote by itself doesn’t change the tide in any way, but it adds to it; it’s a legitimate action that goes beyond just talking about an issue. This is in contrast to “hashtag activism” (which I discussed in a previous column) and other ways of “taking a stand” that aren’t truly tangible actions—a  vote is indeed something that could help effect a result, not just add a voice to the choir. By voting, I’ve realized, I was able to do something beyond just conversing and arguing with friends and people within my circle. Anyone can discuss politics to no end, but voting is a way of actually taking part.

This year, of course, has been more mercurial than most when it comes to elections. The candidates are engaged in a devastating war of words, while also being among the most disliked candidates in history. Every day, there seems to be
some crazy new election story that makes this election year stranger and stranger. It’s easy to become apathetic and to think, as I’ve thought a couple of times, what’s the point? Why bother voting or caring, if it doesn’t seem like there are any good options? But since I voted in the primary, I realized: that’s the wrong view to have if I care at all about the United States.

First off, even if the political scene seems disheartening, it’s important to remain informed about the issues going on and about the different viewpoints in play. After all, when voting for someone or something, it’s obviously best to know what ideas you’re voting for. Case in point: After the Brexit vote a few weeks ago, there were stories of people who scrambled to fi gure out what the implications of the vote were or  even what the European Union is! Those people only did the research and legwork to figure out what they truly wanted to stand for after it was too late.

Once you’re informed, then no matter who you want to support, no matter what you believe politically, I think everyone who can should get out and vote this  November. Even if you won’t be in the country, like me, you can set up an absentee ballot. Maybe you don’t like the candidates and want to do a write-in vote. Maybe you’re all for one and against the  other. Maybe you don’t feel that you care that much about who wins. No matter what, we need to fight the creeping feeling of apathy that could consume us if we aren’t careful. We need to keep ourselves  engaged with the future of this country, to care about its future—and the best way to do that is by going out and voting. It’ll be
a dark day for all of us if the results come back and, regardless of the winner, we find out that “voter turnout was at a record low” or something along those lines. No matter what, we should show that we care—and the best way to do that is by voting.

Oren Oppenheim, 18, is an alumnus of Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. This coming fall he will be attending Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem; he will start college at the University of Chicago in 2017. He is currently a high school intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Contact him at orenoppenheim@gmail.com.

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