Graphic by Olivia Abeyta / North by Northwestern.

Voting is more than choosing candidates; it’s about letting our voices be heard and initiating change in democracy. I fear it’s become all too easy for people to believe that their vote “doesn’t matter,” because they are only one person amidst millions in the United States. But if we give up on voting, we are conceding victory to the other side. We must have the confidence to stand up for what we believe in, even if everyone else tells us otherwise.

My eight-year-old self stepped into the voting booth at Cornerstone Christian School in Brighton, Michigan and assessed the ballot in front of me. It was our third grade mock presidential election, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher. My hands trembled as I carefully circled a name: Mitt Romney, Republican. I folded my paper and pushed it through the slot.

Growing up, my parents never hid their political beliefs, but more importantly, they taught me to take pride in my freedom to vote. But when I think back to voting ten years ago, I only feel confusion, inadequacy and regret. Truth be told, I didn’t want to vote for Romney, but I did because it was the “right” choice, at least according to my friends. Social conformity is one hell of a drug.

My home state of Michigan is a determinative swing state that often reflects election outcomes nationwide. Livingston County, which includes Brighton, is a historically red suburb of Detroit amidst a sea of democratic blue. But even with that in mind, I finally felt the pride and responsibility my parents so eagerly spoke of when I cast my ballot in 2022; my voice would finally be heard. I was extremely excited to vote, even though I was still heavily outnumbered, because I would be doing it alongside other young progressives I found in my hometown. We had the potential to trigger a wave of change in Michigan.

The 2020 census left Michigan a hot mess of redistricting with one less congressional seat, making some races even more competitive than before. While the general consensus said the new map slightly benefited Democrats, I still waited with bated breath as the 2022 midterm results were tallied because my district, Michigan’s seventh, is one of the most competitive in the country. But like I said before, Michigan is often representative of national election trends, so when the Republicans’ anticipated “red wave” dissolved into more of a “red sprinkle,” every major race on my ballot went blue as well.

In the House of Representatives, district seven incumbent Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) defeated Republican challenger Tom Barrett by five percent of votes. Though she relied on more liberal areas like Lansing to fuel her victory, Slotkin gained two percentage points in conservative Livingston County since the 2020 elections. Each time she holds her ground and is re-elected, I become more confident that this may be the beginning of a progressive movement back home.

The gubernatorial race also stood its ground, as Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated Trump-endorsed republican Tudor Dixon by over 10 points in Michigan’s first-ever governor race between two women.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade just months before the election made abortion the ballot-moving issue that I believe won Whitmer her second term. In addition, Michigan voters would be voting on Proposal 3, an amendment to the state constitution that would protect the right to reproductive freedom. Millions of Michigan women feared their right to bodily autonomy would be taken away by Dixon’s radical policies, so they flooded the voting booths. Tudor Dixon was defeated, and Proposal 3 passed with 57% of the vote.

This is the reason I’m writing. Change only occurs when single voices unite and collectively decide that their beliefs are worth fighting for. In the coming elections in 2024, there are bound to be candidates, both old and new, that will try to silence us and jeopardize our way of life. They don’t believe in reproductive freedom. They don’t see the tragedies of gun violence. They don’t acknowledge that our planet is dying. Therefore, we must be courageous and outspoken about what we believe.

Eight-year-old me didn’t have that confidence, but 18-year-old me does. As demonstrated by the 2022 midterms, I’ve seen the power that unity brings, so we must continue to raise our voices, together. For goodness sake, Livingston County nearly supported a bill that protected the right to abortion! This recent election has made me question: Is my hometown as conservative as I think it is, or are liberal voters just not showing up because they believe they’ve already lost?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But either way, I’ll see you at the polls in 2024!