By Alyssa Stevenson

I spend my days standing in front of 150 middle school students attempting to persuade them to become outstanding citizens. I teach Texas History. We learn about more than just the Alamo and Davey Crockett and Sam Houston, though. I teach my students to become engaged citizens. We have an ongoing lesson throughout the year on civic duty. It’s an odd little coupling of words, civic duty. The concept that citizens owe some allegiance to their government, and that the government in turn protects them is kinda crazy when you think about it. 

I think it’s interesting, of course, that we as a state make sure to include this in the long list of things to teach our students when so often we fail to engage in such activities on our own.

We need to take a look at the numbers that just don’t lie. In the last gubernatorial race, just 27% of citizens who are in the voting age population came out to vote. That’s it. That’s crazy. The governor’s race is not only an important race because of the role of the governor but because of the myriad of other things that grace the ballot in such an important election. We’re talking bond packages, proposed fracking bans, whether or not to keep our county dry… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Surely, we’ve raised our voter turnout since then, right? We haven’t. Across the board, Texas is always one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country. Just look at our last city election. These are the people who make decisions about the things nearest and dearest to us – bike lanes, zoning changes, city budgets, convention centers –the list goes on. Only 6% of our eligible voters came out to exercise their civic duty.

Now, I know that voting is not the only way to serve your country, state, or city. But it is definitely one of the most effective ways to make a difference. What you decide in the voting booth matters. Every vote counts. At the state level and below especially – your vote counts. Want to buy liquor within city limits and not have to slide your license every time you walk into a bar? Vote. Want to ban fracking? Vote. Want to keep fracking? Vote. Want to have better roads and traffic lights? Vote.

I can urge my 7th grade students to become great Texans, amazing Americans, and even actively engaged citizens in their local government. We can get excited about the issues and the candidates and the rhetoric and even caught up in discussions about what political ads are really saying and how we should approach the slant of different media outlets, but none of that matters if they don't turn into voters when they turn 18. The rhetoric only goes so far. The media tells us whatever we want to hear. Your voice has to be heard at some point for it to count. Voting is where that happens.

Make your voice heard. Don’t be in the majority of people who simply think it doesn’t matter. Somebody will win either way. Make sure your candidate wins. Get informed, grab your ID, check out where to vote, get to the voting booth and make it count.