Athens residents vote early at City Hall and the Board of Elections in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Around noon, voters reported waiting in line for about 30 minutes. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; @taylormckenzie_photo)

One of the many words that can be used to describe this year is “change.” It is hard to imagine that life will go back to normal and a new normal will be adopted. However, breaking off from old habits and picking up new ones is sometimes the best thing that can be done, especially when it comes to eligible voters understanding the power their votes have.

The year 2020 provided the perfect storm — from COVID-19 to police brutality and protests — to motivate many to exercise their right to vote. Hoping that our leaders will listen to us is simply not enough. People in the United States are taking matters into their own hands, and if we want to see change, we need to get out to the polls and vote.

Recently however, the importance of voting has been largely disregarded. Voter participation has been lackluster in U.S. presidential elections and even worse in midterm elections. The last five presidential elections had an average voter turnout of 55.34%. In the last five midterm elections voter turnout was roughly 42.06%. These numbers are egregious.

While presidential elections seem to matter more to most, local elections are equally important. In order to see changes at the national level we must first elect representatives that will make changes at the local level. At the end of the day, the representatives are there to serve you and the community. If they don’t, vote them out.

The belief that change can only happen at the top is simply not true. Change starts from local elections and carries on up the ladder. The attitude change among voters this year may be the turning point for elections to come. A record turnout is expected this year, because of the many pervading factors for eligible voters to vote. More specifically, voter turnout may reach 65%, which is a mark not seen since the 1908 presidential election.

Perhaps the most significant factor driving many to vote this year is the divisiveness of President Trump. President Trump has separated any sort of partisanship between Republicans and Democrats. The parties have pinned each other against the wall as the enemy and their followers are as motivated as ever to go out and vote. While it is certainly not a good thing that politics have turned people against each other, if it motivates people to get out to the polls then it’s a step in the right direction.

In the United States, voter turnout has not surpassed 60% since 1968, and while it is difficult to measure what exactly constitutes a high voter turnout, the effect that any U.S. presidential election has on the world is tremendous. However, it feels as if voters in the United States simply don’t realize the collective power of their votes. The U.S. and the world are stuck with the winner of this upcoming presidential election for the next four years.

Moreover, a survey conducted by Pew Research Center regarding the last national elections of the 32 most developed countries shows that the United States placed 26 in terms of voter registration and turnout. While it is unlikely that the U.S. is to ever reach the top of the list, there is reason to feel optimistic that the numbers will continue to increase.

For reference, the 2016 presidential election saw roughly 55% of eligible voters cast their votes, which is quite shocking considering the controversy of the election. Additionally, the 2018 midterm election saw its highest voter turnout in 40 years and turnout nearly surpassed 50%, which happened for the first time since 1982, indicating the enthusiasm to vote was on the rise.

Furthermore, the rise of zeal in the voting community when it comes to getting registered can be attributed to advertisements, commercials and websites. All of these alleyways have made access to information significantly easier, especially considering the pandemic. Voters have the options of casting their votes via an absentee ballot, voting early or voting in-person on election day. In fact, as of Oct. 21, more than 41.5 million people have already cast their votes.

There are a wide variety of emotions behind the election that range from excitement to nervousness. However, if one thing is for certain about the election, it is that people have realized the power of voting, which should carry on to future midterm and presidential elections. If people want change, they have the collective power to do so, because electing not to vote is choosing not to have your voice heard.