‘I want no part in their election’: Why some Alabama students won’t bother voting

Polarizing partisanship and feelings of uselessness will keep some students from the polls.


CW / Clifton Enlers

2020 has seen a global pandemic sweep across the world, social justice movements erupt in every corner of the United States and most recently voting rights called into question only weeks before a highly-contested presidential election. In the midst of all this, one thing remains uncertain: how these events will affect voter turnouts across the country, particularly for college students and young adults.

Grant Williams, a senior majoring in political science, has decided not to vote in the 2020 presidential election because he believes neither candidate is competent enough to be president.

“Neither of the candidates feel like people who want to improve America,” Williams said. “I have no aversion to voting. I think it’s a right that everyone should partake in. But I also feel that I can’t support either of these candidates and I want no part in their election.”

Williams said he believes the two candidates for president, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, only say what they know their supporters want to hear and push the agendas of their respective parties.

“I think we generally find that people who don’t participate in politics or who opt out sometimes view the two parties as being one in the same and that neither is acceptable,” said Richard Fording, a UA political science professor. “There’s also an attitude that a lot of people have that politicians and elected officials are not responsive to ordinary people. They feel like their voice is not going to be heard.”

Fording said America has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of democratic countries. 

He also said that while The University of Alabama has comparable student voting registration numbers to other national universities, the University also has a lower voter turnout rate on Election Day.

According to Fording, there are several technical reasons why young adults don’t vote. For some, it is because they haven’t developed the political habit of voting. Others might not know exactly how to register, which is especially prevalent among college students who study out of state.

Fording said America’s two-step voting system is a reason why many Americans do not participate in elections. Most democratic countries don’t have the registration process that is needed before citizens vote, so it is not as difficult to actually cast a vote on Election Day.

Fording said the current political climate, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social movements around the country, will most likely motivate more college students to vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. However, he also expressed concerns about how those forces might negatively affect voter turnout.

But, many polls have determined that young adult voter turnout rates will rise this election. According to a poll conducted by Vice News and Ipsos, over 75% of the Americans under 30 who were polled said they were going to vote in 2020. While the numbers seem up, some believe that voting turnouts among young adults will remain relatively the same.

“Some people might think that not voting is a political statement, but I don’t think that necessarily has any impact,” Fording said. “Some people might justify it as a sort-of boycott because they don’t think the system does any good and they might say it’s a political statement. However, that’s guaranteed to be ineffective at bringing about any change.”

Alex McCormick, a freshman majoring in creative media, said although he would vote for Biden, he has decided not to vote at all because he believes that the electoral college renders his vote useless, especially in Alabama, which has historically gone red for decades. 

In the United States, each state is allotted a certain number of electors depending on its representation in Congress. These electors are meant to represent the state’s entire population and are supposed to use their vote to represent the will of their state’s citizens. Some argue that the electoral college undermines the citizens’ votes and puts all of the power into electors rather than the people.

“Most people are shocked that I am not voting and will spend a long period of time defending the electoral college,” McCormick said. “Ultimately, I explain my opinion but most people will just continue to remind me that voting is the most important thing to do as a citizen. I rebut normally by saying that if it’s the most important thing, then why does my vote not show up on Election Day and why is Alabama a completely red state?”

While some share McCormick’s view that the electoral college decreases their vote’s importance, others like Alexus Cumbie, a UA graduate student in communication studies and the founder of Literary Vibes Birmingham, believe that voting is incredibly important, regardless of whether you’re voting in a majority or minority. 

Cumbie emphasized that votes matter even if you don’t live in a swing state because “swing states become swing states when their citizens get fed up and decide to make change.”

“The electoral college cuts politicians some slack because they’re able to campaign in certain populations and they only want to attract certain populations,” Cumbie said. “It makes it more of a strategic goal to win certain parts of the country over instead of serving the entire country. Because of that, you have people who are on the periphery of the electoral college and they might not be in a swing state. They’re being told that their vote doesn’t matter because their state may be overwhelmingly blue or overwhelmingly red. So now you have a lot of voters, particularly young voters, who wonder what the point of voting is.”

The relatively low voter turnout among young adults isn’t new. According to a study done by The New York Times, only a little under half of Americans under the age of 30 voted in the 2016 presidential election.

“There are everyday consequences of deciding to opt out of participating in our democracy,” Cumbie said. “If you believe that your vote doesn’t matter, then you are also choosing to ignore the injustices that are happening around us. You’re playing a very passive role in the conversation that every citizen needs to be a part of.”

While the current political climate has influenced someAmericans to abstain from voting, it’s also motivated others to get politically involved and encourage others to vote.

Sam Reece, a UA senior political science major and president of the University’s chapter of Vote Everywhere, encourages students on campus to be civically and politically engaged, especially in regard to voting.

“We often hear people say that their vote doesn’t matter or it doesn’t count, especially in Alabama, but that’s not necessarily true this year,” Reece said. “For folks voting in other states, it’s also not true. There are lots of tight races all across the country so no matter how you vote, your vote is going to be important this year.”

Reece also emphasized that there are many other issues and races on the ballot on Nov. 3, including several amendments that could easily affect politics in America.

“This is an election that is really about the ways in which we practice our democracy,” Reece said. “This is an election in which voting has become an issue. Democracy reform and what our democracy is going to look like has become an issue. This is a turning point in how we think of ourselves as citizens and how our system works. No matter how you feel about that, you now have an ability to influence that future.