As nearly all of us in the College have experienced, one's 18th birthday is a mixed blessing. Yes, you are legally an adult, but the immediate privileges are scarce. Contracts that actually mean something can be signed, cigarettes can be bought, but one of the most important consequences is often ignored: We can vote.
"But that really only means something every four years," you might say. Or "every two years" if you listen to CNN occasionally and managed to stay awake during at least part of AP Government. It is nice to turn 18 on the eve of a presidential election, so you can watch your vote be counted (or not) on national TV for an entire evening and then complain bitterly about the results when you wake up the next morning. But it's also nice to be 18 or older every single year, since local elections happen. Often. And, despite what you might be thinking, they matter. A lot.
"But my vote doesn't count." Yes, Florida and Ohio are famous examples that no human system is flawless. But local elections involve a lot less drama, and therefore give a fairly accurate account of how many people voted for which candidate. So unless Katherine Harris lives right next door, it's not a good excuse. If she does, move. Then vote.
"But I live in Chicago." Well, many of you are still registered to vote in the state that your parents or guardians live in. Hence, the absentee ballot, which seemed so convenient when you could just drop it off in the mail, instead of waking up at 6 a.m. last November to find your local polling station. As a result, a fair amount of money related somehow to you is going to whatever state received that ballot. And Chicago politicians aren't deciding where that money goes.
"But I don't care where that money goes." Well, I see that you voted for the winner of last November's election. Please stop reading and never remember to send in your ballot again. (I am kidding. Republicans should vote. Well, maybe. We'll get back to that one.)
"But when I'm in Chicago, I don't even know what's going on at home. My mother doesn't exactly give me a run-down of the latest news in the local sheriff's election when I do manage to call her." I spend time at the Reg. I see the hours upon hours of procrastination via the Internet that occurs. Use one of the thirty breaks you take when writing a hum paper to go on to www.votesmart.org (a non-partisan site, a disclaimer I am forced to add because of the comment above) and do a little reading. Google is also your friend. Even the candidate's websites also have some valuable information, albeit amidst the propaganda. And Marx or Plato or Durkheim will seem a lot more exciting when you return to the paper.
"OK, OK, I'll vote. But why should I care about these elections?" I grew up in the suburbs of D.C., where local politics pale in comparison. (The city of D.C. is an exception to that rule, since Marion Barry is certainly entertaining and pales to no one. If this guy ran for president, Jon Stewart could not invent better material. But I digress.) Once you realize that you probably have some connection, whether rather obscure or familial, to your local officials, things will start to seem a little more exciting. And once you learn about some of the fairly insane debates that often take place in state capitals on a near-daily basis, the Onion will no longer be necessary.
So next time you find yourself on the A-level or in the basement of Crerar with a little time to spare, do some research. Check when your next election is, download the absentee form, fill it out, and mail it in. Take a break from your reading and learn a little about your town's mayor, if he or she doesn't manage to make the front page of the New York Times on a daily basis. When you get your ballot, think about your home, your money, your civil rights, or your future. You're making a big difference when you vote. Yes, even you Republicans.