We live in a vibrant and glorious democracy, the central tenet of which is the right to self-government and voting. In 1870, government officials tried to change the law to ensure that no one would be denied the right to vote. It would be inconceivable to them that the descendants of those who once fought for suffrage would eventually have to be coerced into embracing it.
We live in a vibrant and glorious democracy, the central tenet of which is the right to self-government and voting. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In 1870, government officials tried to change the law to ensure that no one would be denied the right to vote. It would be inconceivable to them that the descendants of those who once fought for suffrage would eventually have to be coerced into embracing it.
A communal sense of voter apathy currently exists in the general population. In the 2012 Presidential Election, only 53.6% of the American population greeted the polls. In itself, this statistic is appalling, but when compared to the high numbers of countries such as Belgium and Turkey with turnouts of 87.2% and 84.3% respectively, it is absolutely horrific. These numbers only grow worse when one glances at the statistics surrounding youth voters, citizens aged 18-24. In the 2012 Presidential Election, only 50% of youth voters participated in the election.
Our ancestors fought for this right, a right that scores of Americans are currently consciously ignoring. The right to vote has been fought for throughout America’s history, from the struggle against the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the 19th Century to the 20th Century’s Women’s Suffragette movements. Currently, voting rights are absent or limited in many countries such as Zimbabwe, Guatemala, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the Dominican Republic. North Korea and Belarus are completely run by authoritarian governments. Since millions of people around the world have little say in their government, voting in the United States is more than just a right; it is a privilege. It is both ironic and disheartening that, while millions of people around the world are disenfranchised, only half of Americans take the time to exercise their right to vote.
Voting is particularly important for young people. In the current election, many youth voters supported Bernie Sanders and now claim that they will not vote for any of the remaining candidates. Yet the votes of our youngest population can be crucial in determining the final outcome. In the 2000 Presidential Election, three candidates rose to the ranks: the Republican George W. Bush, the Democratic Al Gore, and the third party candidate Ralph Nader. Many young voters rose to support Nader, claiming Bush and Gore were examples of the failures of the major parties. Yet, in reality, the election was a two-party election. Votes gained by Nader simply detracted from those of Gore, and in subsequent years contributed to the general anger at Bush’s presidency. The current election shares the same risk. Despite the presences of candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, at the end of the day this will be a two-party election; wasting votes on third-parties is pointless. Yet this is an example of how young voters can so influence the outcome of the general election. In addition, not only are young voters influential, but the policies that are enacted under a presidency can and will directly affect their futures.
America was founded on governmental self-determination, still a central philosophy of democracy. Citizens have no right to criticize the establishment or politicians when they do not use their power at the ballot box. By doing nothing, non-voters become part of the problem and not the solution. The Constitution of the United States begins with the words “We the people.” These principles of the idea of America do not reflect “half the people.”
Other governments even have the idea of compulsory voting. Even today there is a perception that voting rights are being abrogated in some states. For example, North Carolina’s recent ID laws demand specific requisites for votes. Irrespective of the merits of their arguments, it’s still a hot button issue at the heart of which is whether the system disenfranchises some groups. The difficulties placed before some NC residents to register should make others take their ability to vote more seriously.
Voting is not just a right; it’s also a duty owed not just the country, but to ourselves, our families and, most importantly, to future generations of Americans. Before people decide stay home from the polls, they must remember the suffragettes, the slaves who fought and died to cast ballots, and those in other countries who still yearn for these rights. Only then is it possible to make a decision.