When I was 17, I set up an ironing board on the side of Market Street in downtown San Francisco. I wore a brand new shirt with straight-out-of-the box creases, which read: “Ask me to help you register to vote.” Panicked about the possible re-election of George W. Bush (remember him?), I had convinced four friends to spend the day with me trying to register distracted shoppers.
Although we aren’t voting for a president this year, our congressional representatives have enormous power, shaping everything from the Supreme Court to our health care options. State and local representatives also have important impacts on our lives. For example, in Ellicott City, Maryland regional planning decisions affected recent extreme flooding, which had fatal consequences.
Why I’m voting
I am now postdoc at Johns Hopkins University where I study floods and how they are changing. One reason I will vote is because I am worried about the consequences of climate change—both the impacts we are already experiencing in the U.S. as well as worldwide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released a report detailing devastating impacts which are likely to occur within our lifetimes unless we take aggressive action. Already, five tiny islands among the Solomon Islands have disappeared.
As an engineer, I was embarrassed to read recent findings that STEM majors vote less frequently than other majors. Apparently this has something to do with gender differences: men vote less than women and make up a larger fraction of STEM majors. But accounting for these differences doesn’t completely explain the discrepancy. Students majoring in science, engineering and math were found to be less interested in other forms of civic engagement as well.
STEM majors, let’s change this
We have just as much at stake compared to everyone else — maybe even more, given how much funding for science is provided by the federal government. Having tried to “do it all” in college (why not add a minor in comparative politics, extra Swahili class and an honors thesis?), I know how hard it can be to find time to vote amidst relentless problem set and paper deadlines.
Let me suggest some reasons that voting is a worthwhile investment of your time
First, the representatives we elect pass bills which affect our economy and thus your job opportunities after graduation. When I graduated from Stanford in 2010, the implications of the financial crisis were still being felt and it was difficult to find a job.
Second, even if you opt instead for graduate school, as I did (maybe even because of aforementioned challenges in obtaining a desirable job), these representatives impact your lives. Last winter, a proposal to tax tuition benefits as income would have made graduate school unaffordable for many students.
Finally, average student loan debt at graduation now tops $30,000. The people we elect can support or fight proposed cuts to student loan forgiveness programs, which give some graduates the opportunity to reduce the size of their loans.
When I moved across the country, I left my ironing board at home in California. While you won’t find me on the side of the quad with voter registration forms, I strongly encourage you to register to vote.
This election is likely to have a big impact on your life
Have a say in what happens. Vote on November 6th.
This piece was originally published as an op-ed in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter.