To be completely honest, I was sick of this election cycle when we were barely halfway through the primary season.

American election cycles are ridiculously long, and with the first presidential debate behind us and the election mere weeks away, I would be the first to admit I’m ready for it to be over.

I’m tired of seeing the same attack ads over and over, and I’m tired of the constant panels on every news network analyzing polls, especially since I do not particularly like either of the candidates. I am not all too enthusiastic about the options, and a part of me wishes we could use a reset button on what has been an extremely nasty election cycle devoid of serious policy discussion and heavy on the name-calling and soundbites.

But I will still be going to the ballot box in November and casting my vote, just as I went to vote in the primaries for a candidate I liked and genuinely wanted to see nominated.

Voting is important. Even if your candidate of choice is not on the ballot this November, it’s important to choose between the options for the person you think is better than the alternative. Sitting on your hands and staying away from the ballot box in protest is not going to do anyone any good. Refusing to vote for a candidate just because they beat your preferred candidate in the primaries is not going to help anything.

When all is said and done and the votes are counted, there will be no difference between a protest vote for a candidate and a genuine vote for that same candidate. It’s counterproductive to vote for one candidate to spite another one, because you’re just helping the candidate you’re voting for.

This is an extraordinarily close election, and every vote is going to count more than it usually would. There is not a clear frontrunner going into this thing — at least, not right now — so I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner just manages to eke out a victory. So, again, I say to you: your vote matters.

But don’t just take my word for it; I’ll give you a recent example that I think perfectly portrays why it is important to take this election and voting seriously.

I stayed up to watch the Brexit votes come in over the summer, and, like many, I sincerely believed the United Kingdom would remain in the European Union. I didn’t think the vote would be as close as it was, and I didn’t expect the outcome. I watched the numbers come in, saw how close the numbers were, and I was made uncomfortably aware that this was what November in the U.S. was going to look like.

The next morning, as I tried to process the fact that Brexit won, I saw  media coverage of people saying they voted to leave the EU as a joke because they didn’t think it would happen. Some voted to leave not because they actually wanted to leave the EU but because they wanted to protest against the current government’s policies. And some of them voted without even knowing what they were voting for. (Of course, I’m not saying this is true of everyone who wanted to leave.)

As election day approaches, I hear people saying all of the above about voting for president, and I am concerned.

So I encourage you to do a few things:

 

  1. Register to vote. I am firmly of the opinion that, if you have the ability to register to vote and can vote, and you refuse to do it, you should not complain about the outcome of the election because your vote could have made a difference. If you don’t care to vote, do not complain when you end up with someone you do not like in office. There are so many resources available to help you register and cast your ballot, even if you can’t make it to a polling place. I should know – I voted via absentee ballot in the 2012 election.

 

  1. Do your research, and not just for the presidential candidates. Know who and what you’re voting for, and don’t just listen to attack ads and soundbites. Remember that your local and state elections matter just as much as the national races, and take the time to seriously research your representatives who are up for election. Also be aware of any referendums that may be on the ballot, such as the referendum on the Pennsylvania ballot that will ask whether or not the retirement age of judges should be raised from 70 to 75.

 

  1. Understand that this an extremely close election with a lot at stake – multiple Supreme Court appointments will probably be opening up during the next four years. Keep this in mind when you go vote: what sort of Supreme Court justices do you want to see on the bench?

 

And then, you need to go out there and vote. Even if you aren’t overly enthused with your options, remember just how lucky we actually are to have the right to vote. Don’t throw it away.