The New Zealand 2017 General Election officially falls on Saturday, 23 September 2017, but early voting is already taking place. Noel and I decided to vote early this election cycle as the polling station in Northwood is no longer around — it was really nice to be able to walk down and vote — and it was one less thing to do on a precious Saturday.

When I was a senior in high school, there was a big movement to register younger voters and encourage them to vote. MTV even had “Rock the Vote” going during that time. I vividly remember Jamie Royal coming to my classroom (Sociology, I think), and she registered me to vote in the hallway across from my locker. I was so nervous and scared and excited at the same time.

The American Federal Elections are on the first Tuesday in November, so I was in college by the time they rolled around in 1992. I voted for Bill Clinton for President. I was very proud that I did my civic duty and voted.

As a quick aside about how voting works in New Zealand before I get back to the present: for those of you not in the know, in New Zealand general elections, we usually only have two things to vote on: your preferred party (the “Party Vote”) and your preferred local MP. You can vote for the same party across the board or split your vote between two parties, i.e. “party vote” one party and vote for a local MP from another party. A party needs to achieve 5% in the party vote or gain 1 MP in order to be represented in Parliament. It’s a pretty simple system in contrast to the voting ballots we have in the States. (I always joke that I honestly don’t care who is running the Water Board, and why do we have 97 choices for 3 positions?)

Back to the present: at the polling station, after he and I voted, I grabbed two flyers on voting, and Noel and I both grabbed “I voted” stickers. We decided that we would wear them to work the next day to promote voting, as younger people tend to have a lower uptake of voting than older people.

Noel can tell you the experiences he had with the students regarding voting over the last week, but the day after he and I voted, one student asked me about it, and we started to talk. She (in a roundabout way) asked me who I voted for, and I diplomatically answered that I hadn’t honestly been very inspired by any of the choices we have at present, but I voted for the party I felt best represented my ideals right now. She responded that she also felt the same way, and she had wanted to vote for a minor party which wasn’t doing too well in the polls, so she didn’t want to “waste” her vote.

I’m of two minds about the “wasted” vote argument. One side says that I don’t want my vote to be “wasted” so why should I vote for a party that may not get into Parliament? Another side has the whole paradox thing in mind: if I don’t vote for them, then maybe that could be the vote that gets them into Parliament, so they don’t get into Parliament because I cast my vote for another party instead of that party. (Confused yet?)

The point I was making to the student — and I will make this point to anyone — is that people died for the right for her, and you, and I, to vote. There were wars fought, protests, revolutions, the whole nine yards, so that we all had the right to express ourselves, both in the polling place and on the streets. It is vitally important that we make an informed choice and make it officially known through voting. This is how democracy, and its various offshoots, work, and it’s up to us, the people, to keep democracy living and breathing through engagement.

I’ve heard a few students say, “It’s too hard. I can’t be bothered.” That makes me upset and angry, especially in New Zealand where you show up, get your paper, and have to tick twice, then stuff the ballot into a box. How hard is that? It’s not.

So, I feel it is super-important to vote. Do the research, find out which party and which candidate(s) represent your interests and ideals the best — and don’t follow a party blindly, put a bit of footwork into the process, because God put that brain inside your head and gave you rational thought for a reason — make the time to vote, and get out there and vote! There’s no wrong answer, mostly, but the answer that is the most right for you.

Because — and I’m a strong believer in this — if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t have the right to praise or complain about whoever gets in power. You didn’t put them there, or stop them from getting there, so you shouldn’t express your opinion about it.

Get out and vote, people!