At the time of this writing, America is officially two weeks away from the most important election of this century. While our social media has been inundated with countless calls to vote, and rightfully so, I believe that, while simply voting is a good start, it is not enough.

The reason why I argue this is the most important election of this century is because the country has never been more engaged in politics. For better or worse, politics have seeped into everyday conversation, and have unfortunately led to further exacerbating preexisting cleavages in American society. Because of politics’ ubiquity, the population has been left either divided into one of two camps, or left wanting to completely disengage.

It’s understandable, especially if you would rather avoid argument or confrontation with individuals you normally do not engage in political conversations with, such as family or coworkers. Yet, it is because of this increased politicization that it becomes important to vote.

And more importantly than that, it becomes important to take the next step and really research, and really understand every single measure of your ballot.

As a voting member of a democratic republic, we are all responsible for the power vested in us with our vote – not just for our elected officials, but also the state and local measures presented before us. If we choose not to engage, then, by default, the victors are those who earn pluralities. As in, the ones who win are ones who won a majority of the total of the few who decided to vote.

Yet these decisions affect all of us within their jurisdiction.

The easy thing is to vote, and to vote simply across party lines, or to just vote on the presidential candidates. The easier thing is to completely disengage and not even vote, or to somehow protest by abstaining from voting.

The harder, yet more important, action is to thoroughly research all of the candidates and all of the measures, across multiple sources. You may still end up voting along party lines, but at least you will understand the decisions that affect your local area.

Most people have probably already made up their minds about who they are voting for president, but ballots also contain state and local measures, House and Senate seats, governor seats, state legislatures, and municipal candidates. Even if you are far from home as a military member, these decisions will affect your family and friends, and at least impact the direction of the your former/future home.

As a Californian, I had to vote on issues such as gig employee contracts, Affirmative Action, stem cell research, cash bail, rent control, property taxes, and so on. These were not simple issues by any means, yet they greatly impact my state and my hometown. The least I could do was take the time to research and dig into the policy nuance to make sure I was making the most informed decision I could.

Especially given how most of us are taking the absentee ballot option, we have the time to sit down with our voting materials to really dig into the issues and come up with our own decisions. Voting materials are also available early from county officials and websites.

Going further, we can make sure that others less privileged also have access to their vote, and access to their research materials. With more research and understanding, we can be active members of a civil society, engaged in more ways beyond simply government or business. We become active participants in the politics that inevitably affect us, rather than simply being recipients.

As stakeholders in this democracy, the many of us who have the right to vote should implement that power, while bearing the responsibility to use it wisely.

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