A First Time Voter Inquires How It Works

By Austin Lammers

EgFfZXEuI will turn 18 years old in May. This magical number will grant me the the legal right to buy lottery tickets and tobacco, apply for a credit card, get married, or leave home — none of which I will do. I can, however, buy fireworks and declare candidacy for parliament in England, which I may do instead. Thanks to the 26th amendment, I will also be able to vote. I have anticipated, since I was 12 years old, the day I could walk out of the courthouse a registered voter, considering even then I felt more politically informed than half the country’s adults.

The majority of the class of 2016 will be 18 by May 23rd, the voter registration deadline if you wish to vote in South Dakota’s primary on June 7th. If not, October 24th is the deadline for the national election on November 8th. Only 57.5% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2012 presidential election, which is a horrific number. A wave of new adults making a trip to the polls in November could increase this ugly percentage. It’s important our young voices be heard in this country, since it will soon be ours.

I hadn’t fallen asleep in my government class yet, and still I found myself asking a number of questions about voting. Naturally, instead of doing homework for the class, I decided to do some research and answer these questions myself.

What’s the first step in the voting process?

The first step in the voting process would be registering yourself to do it legally. This may seem like a difficult process since bureaucracy is involved, but it’s actually quite simple.

  1. Here are the steps:
  2. Print out a voter registration form from the South Dakota Secretary of State webpage
  3. Fill it out
  4. Bring it to the County Auditor’s office located on 315 St Joseph St, Rapid City, SD 57701 (behind the courthouse).

Males from 18-25 years old are also required to sign up for Selective Service. I am a 5’8”, 130 lb., unaggressive literature geek that our military will not want on the frontlines, and even I will be required to do so.

What political party do I side with?

On your voter registration form lies an empty box titled “Choice of Party”. Please do not fill this box with “Tea”, “House”, or “Block”. The Republican and Democratic parties are the only two recognized in South Dakota. If you wish, you can form a new political party on a petition with 6,936 signatures, which would be hilarious. I know you are familiar with the major political parties, and I know your parents may have influenced your impressions of them, making your decision easier. Unfortunately, my view on political parties is similar to George Washington’s during the initial structuring of the United States:

However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Since I don’t want cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men making up my mind on every issue, I could always register as Independent. Sadly, the Independent party receives as much attention as the third Manning brother and as much funding as Central’s club sports.

Do I have to vote on a topic I don’t understand or a pair of candidates I don’t recognize?

Please do not, even if the topic seems important or one of the candidates has a neat name or nice hair. Voting for a candidate you don’t recognize (or with an agenda you don’t know) does more damage than not voting at all. Not only are you voting for the wrong reasons, but you’re canceling out another person’s vote who may be informed. If I go to the polls on November 8th and vote for whoever is not Donald Trump (if he wins the GOP candidacy), I would be disheartened to learn my vote was canceled out by another vote from someone who avidly watched “The Apprentice”.

The average American should be familiar with presidential candidates. But seats such as state congressmen and district representatives may come with a slate of names you may not know. In this case, you will not be penalized for leaving the circle empty. This is a national election, not the ACT. You may use this same strategy on ballot measures you have no opinion on.

To avoid this situation entirely, educate yourself on what you’ll be voting for. The effects of a ballot measure or the ideologies of a candidate are important to know, since they will more than likely affect your daily life. Watching Fox News, CNN, or scrolling through Twitter for an hour doesn’t count as educating yourself. That’s like sourcing Wikipedia on a research paper. You can do better.

How do I get informed?

National elections are easy to follow thanks to the mass of political material we drown in every day. However, state and county elections are only covered locally, so information can be hard to find. Luckily, we have this wonderful tool called Google, which I used to find a few sites with valuable information, such as open seats and ballot measures:

Should I invest in bumper stickers and yard signs?

Many candidates running for office, especially local ones, like to advertise their names using bumper stickers and yard signs. As we get deeper into the election year, these colorful stamps will begin appearing on lawns and the rear-ends of cars . If you ignore my earlier request to vote only on stuff you know, it may come down to Who’s Name is More Familiar on the ballot.

Unruly teenagers also enjoy the yard signs. If you wake up and notice yours missing, you know whom to blame. If you wake up the day after and see the sign returned to your lawn, along with 80 more, you still know whom to blame.

What if I don’t agree with either candidate?

Not many may have this question, but I certainly do. The 2016 election in November will be my first, and I can’t say which candidate has my vote, or if I feel comfortable giving any candidate my vote. So do I have give one at all?

If the election process is being taught in a classroom, the words, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain about who’s in office” are guaranteed to leave the teacher’s mouth. Just like the Electoral College system, I disagree with it. Everyone who lives under this government’s rule has a right to complain about it. That’s why the first amendment was created. If November arrives and I still haven’t a clue of which candidate I will vote for (as I feel now), does an unmarked box wipe away all my credibility for the next four years?

My answer is No. If you legitimately object to candidates in either party, you should not be grounded from political expression with an unchecked space. Why? Because technically, you were not the one who made the Oval Office or the Capitol Building a trainwreck by voting in an unsuited figure.

Where do I vote?

On the South Dakota Secretary of State website you can find your polling place. If you are registered, you simply type your name and date of birth and the location will be shown. The polling place will be chosen based on your precinct, so you will not have to travel to some faraway land.

What do I bring to my polling place?

The only thing the state of South Dakota requires you to bring to the polls is a form of identification. A driver’s license, a government issued ID card, or even your school ID will work. You do NOT have to bring sharpened No.2 pencils, a calculator, and a snack.

Will this article ever end?

Yes. Now be a good citizen and go vote.

Austin Lammers is the editor-in-chief of the Pine Needle.

Photo credit: “I Voted Today” by Bruce Charles on Flickr