Don’t get caucus blocked in 2016

In just a little over two weeks, the day we’ve all been waiting for will be here: March 6. There are many reasons to be excited for March 6. It’s the birthday of preeminent visionaries, like Michelangelo, Marion Barry, and Bubba Sparxxx. It’s the day the Battle of the Alamo began, Ghana gained independence from Britain, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and Walter Cronkite signed off at CBS for the last time. It’s the day the Missouri Compromise was signed, bringing Maine into the Union as a free state.

While I was honored by Mr. Sparxxx’s invitation to his party—complete with bounce house—I will unfortunately have to turn it down. I’ve already been invited to another party. A political party hosted by none other than Uncle Sam himself.

Yes, Colby, on March 6 voters across the state will gather to take part in a democratic tradition known as caucusing. Maine is one of only thirteen states who chooses to caucus instead of using a primary, and there are stark differences between the two systems. Proponents of caucusing tote it as the epitome of grassroots democracy—friends and neighbors gathering in schools and town halls, debating the merits of each candidate before publicly deciding who to support.

However, the caucus system also has many detractors. It can be a tedious exercise, often lasting several hours. Political scientists often cite this time commitment as one of the main reasons caucuses have notoriously low turnout rates. For some perspective, in the 2012 Iowa Republicans Caucus—the poster child of the system—only 5.4 percent of eligible voters turned out. Meanwhile, the 2012 New Hampshire Primary had a 30.4 percent turnout rate. Other criticisms of the caucus system focus on its unrepresentative nature. Caucus participants are often older and more ideologically extreme than the average state resident.

Personally, I see caucuses as archaic and fundamentally discriminatory. While you can use an absentee ballot to vote in primary, not many people can devote a sizable chunk of their day to standing around a room. In the back of our minds, we know that Maine’s 30 Democratic delegates and 23 Republican delegates probably aren’t going to lead a candidate to victory. It seems like a waste of a day, but that’s where you’re wrong.

Many Americans subscribe to the idea of American exceptionalism—that we are uniquely free, gaining this strength from our democratic ideals and personal liberties. We certainly have a special affinity for personal liberties, even when they pose threats to communal welfare (see: Second Amendment), but I don’t think we have exceptional democratic ideals. In fact, I think we’re less democratic than many. The Economist’s Democracy Index certainly agrees on that point; the U.S. ranks 20th out of 167 countries, just behind Mauritius and Uruguay.

I think we only have ourselves to blame for this. Democracies are inextricably linked to the ideals and actions of their citizens, and we as citizens are failing. Issues ranging from campaign spending to voter identifications laws have outraged many people in recent years, but do we take any action besides posting a Daily Kos or Fox News link on Facebook? In 2012, only 17 percent of eligible voters turned out in the presidential primary. While the turnout improved on election night with 54 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, this still meant that 106,013,000 Americans decided not to vote. Subtract 10 million people, and that figure encompasses the entire population of the Philippines.

Many Americans are unsatisfied with our government, myself included. However, the only way we can change its course is by becoming involved in the process, whether you believe in it or not. And right now is a critical time. Both parties are offering candidates who espouse plans for revolution. A wide-range of domestic and international issues threaten both the stability of the country and the world. In the past week, we’ve learned that the makeup of the Supreme Court may depend on this election as well. While pundits always say that this election will determine policy for decades to come, I truly believe that this might be the reality.

Maine may be relatively insignificant in terms of delegates, but in some ways this is also a blessing. During the past few caucuses, Maine has produced a miniscule turnout at these caucuses. In 2008, only 3,506 Mainers voted in the Democratic Caucus. 5,491 citizens did the same for the Republicans.

Hypothetically, if all 1,800 Colby students had voted in one of the caucuses, we would have added 50 percent to the Democratic totals and 30 percent to the Republicans. If every one of us votes, we could be directly responsible for determining the winner of the 2016 Caucuses. If you don’t want to vote because you don’t feel like you can make a difference, wake up. This is your opportunity.

Some of you will spend March 6 in the library or nursing a hangover. I respect that. Just as we have the right to vote, we have the right not to vote. Not everyone feels strongly enough about one of the candidates to spend a Sunday in a school gymnasium. But if you choose not to, just know that you are giving up a sacred right. In reality, you are having just as tangible an impact on selecting your government as a North Korean citizen—absolutely none. Even one vote is better than nothing. And remember: while caucusing may cost you a few hours of your weekend, that time pales in comparison to four whole years of President Trump.