Today is primary election day in Wisconsin, and despite the wickedly cold temperatures (-7 F with wind chill, at the moment), people all across that state will be heading to their local polling places to cast their ballots for one presidential candidate or another. What makes Wisconsin's primary even better is that it's open; that is, anyone can vote for any candidate. You don't need to be a registered anything to vote one way or another, and even registered Democrats could vote for a Republican candidate (and vice versa) if they so chose.
We also have same day voter registration laws here, which is another great boon that I'd love to see exported to other states. When I was a student and moving to a new apartment every year, this was an invaluable law for me. Younger and lower income voters overwhelmingly rely on same-day registration, but it benefits everyone. Estimates point to some 20% of voters registering on the day of, and while some legislators cry about how this can lead to widespread fraud at the polls, there is no evidence to support such claims. In fact, it only seems to lead to higher participation, which is absolutely what we should be working for.
I've had a number of debates over the merits of voting. In states where the primaries are closed, I understand the frustration of independents and other more non-partisan voters who are turned off from even showing up at the polls (or outright barred). But here's the thing: I do believe voting is a civic duty. It's one of the fundamental rights that come with being an American citizen, one that people have literally died to protect. We owe ourselves and our neighbors the minimal effort required in casting a ballot to have even just a small say in determining the direction of our cities, states and country.
There are those people who choose not to vote as a form of protest against either lack of a likable candidate or a perceived rigging of the vote count (see Florida, 2000). I understand this, too, but in those cases I think the least you can do is find some other way to work for change. Maybe run for office yourself, campaign for someone you believe in, do work for or donate money to a non-profit doing good work, or plant a fucking tree for crying out loud. Just do something proactive instead of giving in to apathy. We're not required to vote here, as is the case in countries like Australia, and I think that's a good thing. If there's one thing almost universally true of Americans, it's that we hate being told what to do (sometimes to our detriment). Still, deep down in the squishy parts of my being, I believe that voting/minimal participation in the governing of our country is extremely important for every single one of us, and not something to be taken lightly or ignored.
This goes doubly come November. There's no excuse.
Wisconsin invented the primary election, so take some pride, bundle up good, and get out to your polling places today.