The other day, I received my absentee ballot in my email inbox. It was a surprising feeling to look at the names on the ballot and feel so out of tune with the political situation in the U.S. I study politics at my home university and like to keep up to date with the news, but while abroad, it’s been more difficult to tune in (understandably) than it is when I’m on my campus in Baltimore. There is so much to do here that the U.S. midterm elections come to mind almost as an afterthought: exams first, exploring Europe second, elections third.
This is something we, as students abroad, must overcome. Regardless of your political orientation, voting in this election is important. These elections determine the political and social course our home country will take in the next few years. There will be many tangible and concrete effects. If you are unhappy with the current state of affairs in the U.S. and globally, there is no better way to try to encourage a change. Additionally, voting is a privilege. And as the old adage goes, with great privilege comes great responsibility.
What we’ve been hearing and reading in the news these past few weeks has felt more like the plot of a worrisome dystopian novel than reality. As such, it’s difficult to see so many peers make the choice not to vote for one reason or another: you are impartial; you haven’t learned enough about the candidates; it seems like too much of a hassle; maybe my one vote won’t make a huge difference. The reality is overlooked: many generations have fought for our right to vote, for our right to have a say in our politics. The right to vote is not guaranteed. It is not universal: many are still fighting. Many are not legally able to make their voices heard or to choose the candidates and policies they prefer.
As the political divide in the United States deepens, voting is a way we can hope to mitigate the staunch partisanship. We will only be abroad for so long: it is incorrect to think the midterm elections do not affect us merely because we are not living in the States while they take place. Turning a blind eye may be easy now, but it will be an action many will regret upon their return home. We have the privilege and responsibility of attempting to make the United States a better place for all living in it, and it is our civic duty to act on this.
I was catching up with my parents over the phone recently when my mom mentioned global citizenship. It got me thinking: as we age, the parameters of our worlds shift. We grow from perspectives based on our home to our city, to our state, and to our country. Study abroad stretches those parameters even farther: to our new campuses and our new countries, to the ways countries interact with one another. There are cultural differences between people, but even greater than our differences are our similarities (cheesy, but true). Recognizing these differences enables us to also recognize what binds us all as humans: our shared desire for happiness, freedom, autonomy, independence, success, and love. Appreciating this global citizenship creates a new motivation behind our actions. It creates a different understanding of the need for action. Acting can be as simple as a vote.
Voting abroad can be a little tricky. I, for one, have never mailed in an absentee ballot; instead, I have always been able to vote in person. I have lots of research to do on the candidates up for election, to make such I truly understand the platforms upon which they’re running. I need to catch up with the political situation at home. This shouldn’t be any reason to avoid filling out your ballot and mail it home! There are ample resources online to help you figure out a little more about the absentee voting process.
If you haven’t yet registered to vote and requested your absentee ballot, it may not be too late. While some states’ registration deadlines have passed, others haven’t. Check a list of state registration deadlines (here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/us/politics/state-voter-registration-deadlines.html) and register if you’re able. If you’ve already registered but don’t have your ballot yet, requesting it takes just a few minutes.
Let’s not forget how fortunate we are to be studying abroad. This, too, is a privilege – embrace it, but do not overlook the responsibility that comes with it. And if you have any questions about voting while abroad, reach out! Help is always right around the corner.