Here on Rocky Top, our falls are usually characterized by the return of Tennessee football. However, this year, football season is sharing space with a national occurrence: election season.

It’s hard to believe that four years have already passed since the election of Donald Trump in his close run against Hillary Clinton, and the time has come again for Americans to select who will be the president for the next four years.

As college students, we comprise a unique portion of the American voting demographic; people ages 18-30 make up 37% of eligible voters. Therefore, we have the ability to greatly influence the outcome of a presidential election, and young people have already turned up in swarms for early voting, both through mail and in-person.

Because of the electoral college, America does not have a voting system that relies entirely on the popular vote. Citizens cast their votes for president, then electors in each state decide which direction to cast their electoral college votes, and these votes determine who will become president. Most electors cast their votes for the candidate who won the popular vote in their respective state, and 33 states have laws against so-called “faithless electors,” who cast their votes in a different direction than that offered by the popular vote. In 2016, there were 7 faithless electors — out of a total of 538 members in the electoral college — a record high number. Ultimately, Trump won the presidency based on electoral votes, as Clinton won the popular vote.

Additionally, certain states have a “winner takes all” electoral system, in which the candidate with the majority of the popular vote receives all the electoral votes. Others divide the electoral votes among candidates depending on the proportion of the vote they received.

The electoral college has led some to feel that voting is futile, as factors beyond the popular vote come into play. However, individual votes are still extremely important. As mentioned above, the majority of states have laws against faithless electors, meaning that most electoral votes will be cast in favor of the popular vote. If every citizen approached voting with the mindset that their vote doesn’t matter, then literally no votes would be cast. 

Each individual vote, when combined into the collective, has the power to change and influence our future. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be someone who is interested in politics or engages in political discourse, it is not difficult to spend some time researching candidates to make an educated decision. Remember that the direction you vote in has the possibility to actively affect many facets of life, such as the economy, health care, representation, climate change, handling of the pandemic and more.

It is important that college students and other voters alike embrace the opportunity to use our voices and exercise our political rights through voting for the next president of the United States. The decision to walk up to the ballot box — or mail in a ballot — has the potential to shape history for the foreseeable future.

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