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The cost of a vote

October 28, 2016
By Whitney Helm
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Panelists on Monday fielded questions about the right to vote, what voting means in the larger system, if it’s more important to vote here in Wisconsin or in your home state, and what people who can’t vote can do to impact elections.

“It’s really important to at least show up … I think to show up, even if you cast an entirely blank ballot, is showing you’re willing to be a part of the democracy,” says State Rep. Mark Spreitzer’06 (D-Beloit). “What happens in this election--in terms of who votes--impacts other elections.” 

Spreitzer said lists of voters are used for other elections. 

“If you didn’t cast a vote, no one is speaking to you, and no one is trying to earn your vote,” he says. 

In the current divisive political climate, many are experiencing political fatigue due to the presidential election and some are debating whether to vote at all. 

“When they imagined the U.S., I was unimagined,” says Nicole Truesdell, director of the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness. 

Nicole said she understood people who didn’t buy into the “dream” of how the American political system worked. 

“I think you vote if you think that vote can [create] change, if you buy into the process,” says Nicole. “I think the local matters, whereas the presidental is only for those who can buy into that dream.” 

All four panelists said that voting locally mattered because it chooses positions that directly affect the community. 

In recent years, there have been several laws passed which can limit the ability for some to vote, including voter ID laws, passed in many states, including Wisconsin. Non-citizens and certain felons also cannot vote. 

Mark emphasized other ways to impact elections, even if a ballot isn’t cast. He suggested lobbying for political candidates who share similar values and talking about the candidates with friends and family, who may be able to vote, and making sure they get to the polls. 

The group also discussed some of the major issues with voting, including gerrymandering and what instant runoff voting could look like. 

Ruth Greenwood, Campaign Legal Center and Election Law Professor at Loyola University Chicago Law School, discussed instant runoff voting, which allows candidates outside of major political parties, a true chance in the race. The concept allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, with votes redistributed until there is a clear first choice winner. 

“I think this is the best change we could make to our system to give voters more choices,” says Mark. 

Gerrymandering, the redistribution of districts to favor a certain political party, is always a hot topic come election season. 

President Obama has committed to gerrymandering reform after his presidency. But that’s months away and probably years away from actual reform. So what can be done in the meantime? 

Mark says vote with those important issues at heart, not solely party lines. 

“If you’re in a gerrymandered district and it’s gerrymandered for your party, but the other party is running against gerrymandering: Are you willing to vote for that, or are you just going to reinforce the fact that it’s gerrymandered? The only way things will change is if people vote the way they’re not expected to,” he says. 

To find out more about your voting status, items on the ballot, and to view a sample ballot, visit If you have trouble voting, call 1-866-Our-Vote.  If you are a junior or senior student, visit the Residential Life Office for a new ID, free of charge, so that you can vote. Voters can register in person at Beloit City Hall, 100 State Street. Visit the city website for more information.