Editorial: Why your vote matters

Published: 7/3/2018 5:35:34 PM

Editor’s Note:This is the eighth, and final, in a series of guest editorials running between now and July 4, our nation’s Independence Day. These essays were solicited by the Franklin County League of Women Voters for The Recorder from several especially knowledgeable and experienced members of our community, about issues as important to America today as they were when our country was born with our forefather’s Declaration of Independence nearly 250 years ago.

Your vote matters. The United States is a democracy and one of its basic tenets allows its citizens to choose who will represent them at the local, state and national levels of government. Most Americans have not had to think too much about democracy. We have taken it for granted. We have come to be complacent and assumed that our democracy is guaranteed. It is not. We must be ever vigilant and make sure that we are being active citizens ensuring that our elected officials are making the best decisions for the majority.

In Massachusetts the right to vote is available to every adult citizen who is not currently incarcerated as a felon. This was not always so. The founders of our country had lofty ideals of equality and justice, but the reality was quite different. In America, equality and freedom has continually evolved over time. Generations of Americans struggled to gain the right to suffrage. At first only white males could vote. Next came non-white males and eventually women were also able to cast their ballots. African Americans, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans have all faced obstacles to voting. The effort to make our country match its ideals has been and continues to be a long and hard fought battle.

Voting is the foundation of our republic. Yet, this very bedrock of our democracy, the right to vote, is not utilized by many of its eligible citizens. The United States is near the bottom of developed nations in voter turnout. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the ninth lowest voting rate of 35 countries. In the 2016 election, 102 million qualified people didn’t vote, more than those who voted for any one candidate. In the 2014 mid-term elections only 37 percent of eligible voters did in fact cast their ballot.

There are numerous reasons for not voting. Apathy and disillusionment with the political system keep some from using their enfranchisment. Many people feel the government does not care about them or what they think. Money in politics makes others wary. The way the Electoral College works and gerrymandered congressional districts cast aspersions on voting results. Some believe that by not voting they are protesting against poor choices or that there is no important difference between the candidates, so therefor, their vote doesn’t matter.

These concerns are real. However, if you don’t vote you leave decisions to others who do vote. The more people who vote, the more the winner represents a larger number of people’s beliefs. Those who vote have a powerful impact on public policy and government. It is the people who cast their ballot that get to tell our country’s story. Those who vote decide who will represent us. Voters chose what issues their representatives will work for. Their choices affect how money is spent.

Elected officials know who votes. A community with voter turnout far below other neighborhoods will get less attention. Elections decided by narrow, unrepresentative groups are in the interest of those with wealth and power. For the past three decades voters have been disproportionately of higher income, older or more partisan in their interests. This enables a small group of people to control the majority.

Being an informed voter goes hand in hand with the right to vote. It requires one become knowledgeable about the issues and positions of candidates. This takes some time, but is well worth the effort. In order to obtain an accurate picture of a topic or person, you need to read about the candidates and issues using a variety of sources. Make sure those sources are sound. Don’t rely solely on social media for your information. Watching debates, going to candidate nights and fact checking information for accuracy will ensure that your vote is well thought out.

Your job is not over once you have voted. Stay informed and involved by watching or attending government meetings, keeping up with the news and contacting elected officials concerning issues you care about. Peacefully demonstrate if the government is doing things that you find objectionable. Use your constitutional rights to their fullest.

The most important job in a democracy is that of a citizen. As President Obama said in his farewell address, “The gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured. It falls to each of us to be anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy.” A vital way we have to watch over our precious democracy is by being informed and active voters. Vote as it your life depended on it, in fact, it does.

This essay was written by Denise Petrin of Gill, a member of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County.


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