There are important elections happening all over the world on a regular basis. Since many of us who work at Scarleteen live in the United States, we’re particularly invested in the upcoming midterm elections in November that offer voters across the country a chance to mitigate the damage done by the Trump Administration over the last two years, and hold some of the people who caused that damage accountable for their actions. But there are elections in other countries that certainly carry an equal sense of urgency and also offer a chance for everyday citizens to change the political landscape of their country for the better.

At the same time, there’s also a creeping phenomenon where many people see voting as an empty action, something that cannot have any meaningful impact on their lives or social issues. It’s deeply important to us that you know how to vote and, more importantly, why to vote. What we want to do is offer some thoughts on why voting matters, including instances where voting made a big difference to issues near and dear to our hearts like access to sex education, queer rights, and reproductive healthcare. We also want to offer a few resources to help you exercise your right to vote, no matter where you are.

Why We Believe in Voting

Voting allows people a voice in decisions that affect their daily lives. Barring the sudden acquisition of super powers, many people are never going to have as much influence over what happens in the world as they’d like. When you’re looking at big-picture things like civil rights, climate change, or healthcare, it can sometimes feel like there’s no way for you to influence what happens, even if the issue directly affects you or the people you love. Voting is a way to make your voice heard about those issues.

And just in this past year, we’ve seen it’s possible to vote more diverse, progressive candidates into positions of power across the globe. In a time when many people feel powerless or are being told that their desires for candidates who look like them and will work for them are “too radical,” those election results serve as a reminder that the combined power of hundreds of individual voters can have incredible results.

To be clear, voting is not the only way to make your views on political and social issues known. There are many forms of activism, including protests and other types of resistance, to influence those in power. But when fighting for social change, you need every tool at your disposal, and voting is one of those tools.

Another reason to vote: voting also has ripple effects that aren’t immediately obvious. Imagine you vote for a pro-LGBT representative in a local election and they win. Once in their new position, they introduce legislation to create better protections for queer and trans people in your area, and that legislation gets passed. Now you have legislation that makes your area safer for queer and trans people. And, that legislation can act as a model for other places that want to create similar protections, meaning that even more queer and trans folks may benefit from it. So, by voting for a specific person, you’ve helped create a chain reaction that improves life for lots of people. Voting can feel like a small action sometimes, but it can have big consequences.

Finally, voting is important because we are facing an uptick in global fascism and conservative extremism. We need people  — especially plain old citizens like you and me — to be politically engaged and active now more than ever. The most vulnerable groups are already bearing the consequences of this shift, and there is a very real chance that these trends will continue to get worse. This is not a pleasant thing to think about, given what these types of extremism have meant for marginalized people in the past. If we do not confront this reality and take steps, voting among them, to address what is happening, we risk being passive at a time when major resistance is needed. We risk our passivity allowing or enabling very real and widespread harm.

We do need to note that in some areas, and for some populations, voting can be difficult to impossible due to a variety of factors, citizenship status, the carceral state, and voter suppression among them. For example, in the U.S. there has been a wave of states purging their voter rolls, meaning that some people who assume they are all set to vote may get to the polls only to discover they’re ineligible (we recommend checking your registration status at vote.org before the voter registration deadline in your state). Acts like purging voter rolls often target groups, such as Black communities, that historically support more progressive candidates.

We, along with many other organizations, are pushing hard on the movement to get people out and voting, including sharing tools to help people navigate those challenges. But we do recognize that some people still may not be able to vote — including because of their age — or may do everything right only to find that they are still turned away at the polls. Being disenfranchised is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not the fault of those who are disenfranchised.

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