Do I Have to Vote? Here Are Some of the Scary Things That Could Happen If You Don't

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Do not feel bad if you secretly think your vote in the midterms doesn't matter. Contrary to the tenets of democracy, plenty of people in politics don't want you to participate—take Brian Kemp, running for governor in Georgia, who was caught on tape last week admitting that his campaign are hoping people don't vote—and that message is trickling down to you, whether you like it or not. I mean, whether your state and/or district is blood-red, firmly blue, or purplish, you're just one person, right? And given the events of the past two years, you'd be forgiven for just feeling...tired. Tired of caring. Tired of trying.

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I hear you, I do. But I'm here to tell you that "your vote counts" is not just a platitude, a tired cliché trotted out by left-leaning celebrities on their Instagram Stories. In many states, turnout is the only thing that stands between a Democratic win and a Republican win. And because the big-name races, like the governor and Senate seats, suck up most of the attention, you might have missed the down-ballot measures with confusing wording that boil down to a single, critical point: To discriminate, or not to? (I'm looking at you, Massachusetts—more on that later.) You have only a single vote, but that single vote writ large is what decides the future of your town, your district, your state, and—not to put too fine a point on it!—your country.

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But let's say you don't vote. Maybe you're tied up with your kids, maybe there's a blizzard, maybe your nearest polling place is 45 miles out of your way and you don't want to be late to work. Maybe you're just exhausted. It's not fear-mongering to say that if you and people like you don't vote, what happens next could be frankly terrifying. You want examples? Here we go.

Decades of Trans Activists' Work in Massachusetts Could Be Undone

You've probably heard that Republican politicians are taking advantage of the Trump era to scale back rights that had been codified into law for the LGBTQ community. One particularly shocking example you might not be familiar with is Massachusetts' Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum, a wordy November ballot measure that asks people to vote on whether trans people deserve to feel safe in public spaces.

A little background: At the tail-end of 2016, Massachusetts passed a law granting trans people protection against discrimination in public places, like restrooms. Progressives in the state heralded the law as a victory years in the making. “No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” said governor Charlie Baker at the time.

There is one route out of this mess we've gotten ourselves into, and it's boring but important.

And that should have been it. Unfortunately, conservatives who frame the law as being dangerous to children in restrooms continued to attack it, and this year they managed to get an effort to repeal it on the state's November ballot. (Worth mentioning here: There is no evidence that anti-discrimination laws like this one put anyone in danger, per a recent UCLA study.) So, in November, residents of Massachusetts will vote "YES" or "NO" on a messily worded measure that will determine whether the state keeps the anti-discrimination law or tosses it.

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A "NO" decision to repeal the law would be a devastating blow not just to trans rights in Massachusetts, but across the country. Like the "religious freedom" laws that have multiplied since 2014, other states would likely catch wind of Massachusetts' about-face and seek to repeal their own anti-discrimination laws. A domino effect, basically, with every fallen domino further crushing the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Abortion Could Be Criminalized All Over Again

The moment that Anthony Kennedy announced his resignation, activists knew that Roe v. Wade was in legitimate jeopardy. With an anti-choice justice sitting on the Supreme Court in Kennedy's place, the pro-choice and swing justices would be outnumbered for the first time in decades. If and when a challenge to Roe drifts up to the Supreme Court, it could be the end of legal abortion in the United States.

Which isn't to say that abortion is doomed—to the contrary, your vote this November matters more than ever. Because if Roe is overturned, then much of what happens after that will be up to the individual states, meaning that you'll need a pro-choice governor and legislator more than ever. Take Michigan, for example, which has an antiquated law on its books stating that performing an abortion is a felony—a complete pre-Roe ban that eight other states still have, too. If Roe is tossed, then Michigan and a handful of other states will default immediately to its pre-Roe laws, making abortion a felony almost instantly.

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But if Gretchen Whitmer is sitting in the governor's seat, she can immediately seek to repeal its 1931 pre-Roe ban (and the more Democrats in office in Michigan to help her pass it, the better). She's already released a comprehensive plan to protect abortion rights in the state. But if Bill Schuette, running against Whitmer for the governor's seat, wins in November, then he'll likely be more than happy to let the pre-Roe ban (a law enacted in 1931, for God's sake) sit.

Do not let the enormity of the Supreme Court's right-leaning bias overwhelm you. We need pro-choice legislators at every level of local government more than ever.

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The Future of Earth Could Get More Bleak

This is not hyperbole. If you read the United Nations' October climate report, you too probably lie awake at night thinking gloomily about how quickly parts of our planet will become inhospitable. Even the report itself concluded that although it's not too late for us to turn things around, it's "politically unlikely" that we'll be able to. Way to make us feel utterly powerless, guys.

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Yes, you can practice being green in your daily life, particularly through eating less meat, using less energy, and using less throwaway utensils, for example, but you can also vote for and against some legitimately game-changing environmental measures on the ballot this November. Marie Claire's Cady Drell put together an exhaustive guide on how to do exactly that.

The Epidemic of Gun Violence Could Continue

If we don't do anything about it, there will be more Sandy Hooks. More Parklands. Other massacres like the ones in Orlando, Las Vegas, and Virginia Tech. Again, this is not hyperbole. There has not been one meaningful piece of gun control legislation passed by Congress since before Sandy Hook.

At the state level, however, dozens of laws have been enacted in a bid to combat the national scourge of gun violence. And Democratic candidates are more pro-gun control now than they've ever been, having stayed quiet in past elections out of fear of losing more rural districts. At least while Congress is controlled by the GOP, the future of gun control is at the state level—meaning, again, that your vote is more important than ever. If you elect officials that are anti-gun violence, your vote will save lives. Statistically, it's that simple.

Morgan McMullen

And I haven't even begun talking about the other ways your vote could not only save lives, but protect the country and the people who live in it. You thought that little kids being ripped from their parents' arms at the border was bad? Experts say immigrants will face an even bleaker future if Republicans continue to control both chambers of Congress. Terrified by the mountain of debt most young people face? The economic inequality that increasingly defines who we are as a country? The rampant xenophobia that has already become murder in a horrifying number of circumstances? You should be terrified. If you're not terrified, you're not paying attention.

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All elections are important, but this one particularly so. In the two years since Trump was elected president, the "resistance" has flexed its muscles in myriad ways—from the unprecedented popularity of the Women's March to the spike in women running for office and the sharp increase in small donations to grassroots nonprofits seeking to change politics from the ground up. But this is the first true test of the resistance, exactly 24 months since the now-president was elected. No amount of protesting, tweeting, empathizing, donating, or pro bono work today is going to be as powerful as your vote. Politicians work for you, and this is your chance to remind them of it—and, if they're not living up to your expectations, get them the hell out.

There is exactly one route out of this mess we've gotten ourselves into, and it's boring but important: Do your civic duty. Do your Googling for all of an hour, if that's all you can spare, and then go and vote. Take a friend. Take a selfie. Listen to a podcast in the line. Just do it. Please.

Morgan McMullen

From explainers to essays, cheat sheets to candidate analysis, we're breaking down exactly what you need to know about this year's midterms. Visit Marie Claire's Midterms Guide for more.

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