People generally think of voting in terms of the “right to vote” or the “privilege of voting” (and, less frequently, of the responsibility to vote), but most probably do not interpret voting as an act of love and respect. In the highest sense, however, voting can be a compassionate and life-affirming act. By exercising our vote, we can protect our society, provide for future generations and help to continue the idea of individual freedom as a force in this world. Of course, some votes are used as “weapons” against particular classes of people or constructive ideas. If, however, we would view our votes as acts of love, that vision could work to change “negative” votes into positive action.
There are a number of recent studies and polls which seek to determine why so many Americans do not vote and why so many Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered to vote. Leaving aside the issues raised by voter restrictions* on both registration and the voting process, there is still an evident shortfall.
We often talk about the preeminent position of the individual in American society, which reflects our thinking about how American society depends upon the individual. The position of the individual is, indeed, the basis of our law and our view of society. The Rule of Law is designed to protect the rights of the individual, not the rights of the majority (based on the obvious distinction that the majority is well-positioned to take care of itself, whereas the individual is in need of protection from that majority).
It is less often and with less emphasis that we consider the role of the individual in American society — i.e., what is expected of the individual in return for that preeminent position? Thomas Jefferson famously referred to the role of an “educated electorate” in preserving our democratic ideals, but he further explained that such an educated electorate would thus be able to cast an educated vote. Even considering the narrow definition of “electorate” in his day, Jefferson probably never anticipated a situation where Americans, having the ability to vote, simply wouldn’t care enough to vote or to even register to vote.
There are many societies in today’s world where voting is not available or, if technically available, is only exercised with courage – societies where showing up at a polling place may put the voter’s life in danger or where getting access to a polling place is difficult. Nevertheless, it is awe-inspiring how many people in those societies will expend the time and energy to travel hazardous distances, in the face of threats to life and property, to cast their vote – because they know the value of that vote and cherish it.
Imagine how difficult and dangerous it is to vote in Nigeria, in Afghanistan, in Venezuela…imagine walking, sometimes for one or two days, through difficult terrain, to reach your assigned polling place…imagine passing scowling, armed guards as you wait in line…imagine fearing the armed people you don’t see but you know are watching you – ON THE OTHER HAND, imagine having to get up an extra half-hour early, to get into your air-conditioned car and drive to your assigned polling place, making your way past several volunteers in jeans who are trying to hand you flyers for their favorite candidate. Doesn’t compare, does it? *
As Americans, we tend to assume that the United States is an example of democracy to the world. While it is true that we enjoy an open society and have access to opportunities to affect the future, statistics show that the United States is far from the prime example of “the people’s voice in action” that we like to think.
The United States Election Project (http://www.electproject.org/), based in the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida, is self-described as “an information source for the United States electoral system” and collects and publishes election statistics. In its analysis of the recent 2016 presidential election, the Project found that less than 60% of eligible voters cast their ballots. The Pew Research Center states that United States “trails most developed countries in voter turnout.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/15/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/). Those statistics for presidential elections reflect much higher rates of voter turnout than for midterm elections (usually 40%) or local elections (usually as low as 20-25%) of eligible voters.
This article is not so concerned with differentiating between groups of voters by demographics or by analyzing trends by age groups: rather, the thesis of this article is that all age groups should vote…persons in all demographics should vote. It doesn’t matter whether one is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Baby Boomer or Millennial. It is important for all eligible voters to register to vote and then to exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in every election. It doesn’t matter whether the election is for President of the United States or the local school board – every election is important. Every election affords the individual a unique opportunity to change the present and to create the society of the future.
Voting is not a political issue and the act of voting is not a political act – it is a statement in support of democratic government….it is a courageous act of Love in action.
So, we return to our initial discussion and ask: what is the role of the individual in American society? The answer is that the role of the American citizen is purposeful engagement. Voting is not just a right or a privilege – it is a responsibility and a sacred trust.
To neglect to vote is to disrespect the present and to ignore the future.
* Restrictive voting laws at the local level and the loss of the protection of the erstwhile Voting Rights Act have conspired to effectively disenfranchise certain groups of voters or, at the least, erect additional barriers to their ability to easily vote. Not every American has the luxury of driving in an air-conditioned car to vote, or even having the available time to vote (while, in theory, the law states that employers are required to give staff sufficient time off work to vote, the actuality for those in subsistence, low-paying jobs is quite different) Such issues make it even more important that those who do have the ability to exercise their privilege to vote do so and help protect voting rights for all citizens.