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Op-Ed: The First Time Voter - Fear and Power in the Voting Booth

Last week after the Primary Election on I received an email from a reader whose daughter had just taken part in the most important civic duty for a citizen of the United States — she voted.

While many in Montgomery County sat out the Primary Election and didn’t vote at all and the result is a Democratic County Executive race where no one candidate can claim a mandate. The race to be the Democratic nominee for County Executive has come down to just 80 votes — every vote matters. Your vote may not be the deciding vote, but every vote counts.

And Stuti Ganatra of Clarksburg wanted to make sure her vote not only counted but meant something. Stuti’s father Ketan Ganatra wrote me that his daughter was, “All over the election. She went to the library to research candidates, asked people their opinions — she even made notes.” Ketan said that even though she wasn’t a candidate, Stuti did not sleep well the night before the election.

Thousands of voters in Montgomery County voted in the primary, 157,376 to be exact, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections. How many of those 157,000 voters thoroughly researched the candidates?

“I was a little anxious because I wasn’t sure if I had done the right research or enough of it,” Stuti, who is a student at the University of Maryland told me via email. “It was my first step in what I hope will be a lifetime of political efficacy, and I wanted to make sure I was getting off on the right foot.”

The night before she voted, the aspiring doctor got together with a friend over coffee and pastries to discuss the election research they’d had done. It was way to sort out any confusion about which districts and races they were voting in.

How many MoCo voters discussed their election research prior to going to the polls? How many actually did research?

First-time voter Stuti Ganatra did. And she had a lot of research to discuss. She didn’t just read one or two articles about the candidates; she did a deep dive into the political hopefuls.

“After the 2016 elections and all the ‘fake news’ that came with it, I wanted to make sure I had access to reliable information that would enable me to make informed decisions based on policy and practice,” said Stuti. “For example, I perused voting records for many incumbent candidates to determine whether they had a history of following through on what they promised. Eventually, I realized that candidates who had detailed plans and initiatives for how to handle different issues seemed better equipped to handle the positions they were vying for than those who made overly idealistic and vague statements. The better part of my efforts were dedicated to evaluating which candidates had the best initiatives and what they entailed.”

You read that right. She checked the voting records of incumbent candidates and compared their voting record to how well it jived with what they promised during the election campaign. Stuti was going to hold them accountable and make her voting decision based on what her logic and through process told her, not based on a television attack ad.

That explains why she couldn’t sleep. (Insert snarky partisan comment here.)

When Election Day came she went to Rocky Hill Middle School, — the middle school before attending Richard Montgomery High School as part of the magnet IB program — to do her civic duty and cast her ballot.

At the polling place, the election workers confirmed that it was her first time voting and cheered her with loud applause, soon all the folks in the hall were clapping a cheering for her. “While the research helped, it was my interactions with the community that gave me confidence in the decisions I was making,” said Stuti. “After all, this is the essence of democracy — a community facilitated means to decision-making.”

Some 157,376 Montgomery County voters turned out for the 2018 Primary Elections. That represents just 24.4 percent of registered voters. There are 643,888 registered voters in MoCo, 486,512 didn’t do research. More than 75 percent of voters didn’t lose any sleep because they didn’t show up to do their civic duty at all.

But young Stuti Garanta did. We may not know who she voted for or why, and it doesn’t matter. What matters in a time when our politics are so divided – even in a county like ours where one party is so heavily represented, an election can still come down to less than 100 votes — what matters is that Stuti voted. You can be sure that there are thousands of registered Democratic voters who are kicking themselves because their candidate lost by less than 100 votes. There is a Councilmember who is considering joining the race as an Independent candidate for County Executive because no one Democratic candidate captured more than 30 percent of the votes. Barack Obama once famously said, “Elections have consequences.”

Your vote matters, but only if you vote. We must participate. We must partake in the vision our founding fathers had for our nation. What matters, is your vote, my vote, and Stuti’s vote. All three votes may be different, or they may be the same, but the only way to know is to take a vote and have everyone participate. Everyone must make an informed decision and vote.

Stuti Garanta understood that her vote mattered. “Though the likelihood of any singular vote deciding a race is slim when you show up,” she said, “you invest yourself in the process. You become that much more likely to follow through and hold politicians accountable after they are elected. Ultimately, a vote for any candidate is a vote of confidence in democracy, which I think our country could really use right now.”

In his email to me, Stuti’s father wrote, “Go, Stuti, Go. Democracy has a voice in you. And despair not - elections are nothing short of magical!”

Indeed, Go, Stuti Go. Elections are magical.

Caption: First-time voter Stuti Garanta, of Clarksburg, made sure that her vote meant something. She spent time researching candidates and became and informed voter.

Photo courtesy Ketan Garanta.

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