In my Government 101 this semester, several students have written about friends who say: “Why should I vote? It doesn’t make any difference?” In a democratic society every adult, with some exceptions, has the right to vote: But it is not just a right: it is a duty and a responsibility.
True, Presidential and some congressional elections often look like eccentric prize-fights, but an election is also a regular celebration of the way we organize ourselves. Millions upon millions of people turn out across the nation to vote, and in doing so, express their faith in and commitment to our democracy and the freedoms it embodies.
Why then do people say my vote does not make any difference? Difference to whom or to what?
First, it makes a difference to the struggle between candidates. It is a recognition that you support the values and programs your choice represents. No one, fortunately, can be the decision maker and deliver a casting vote.
Second, it makes a difference to you. Voting is a matter of pride and self-respect as a citizen. Being proud of your country is being active in its political systems and exercising your civic right and responsibility. When you vote, you publicly express that commitment. Not to vote reneges on your civic duty.
Third, it makes a difference to our system of governance. It cannot be sustained without the citizen voting, and an election is a call to civic involvement. Tell us, we are saying to each other, who are we entrusting power to? It is an invitation to express your opinions and values, and it will be cherished by those who have voted like you.
Fourth, it makes a difference to people in other nations. American elections are watched closely across the world as an example of democracy in action. You only have to see the long queues of people waiting to vote in their country for the first time, to realize what it means to them and why our example is so important.
Finally, it makes a difference to us, as a people. On Memorial Day, we remember those who have given their lives, millions of them, so that, among other things, we can vote. To vote is to recognize that legacy, to affirm and recognize what ordinary men and women, most of them in some way related to us, did for us.
The first Tuesday in November is traditionally Election Day – and it would be even more of a celebration if it were a national holiday, because many people’s work commitments make their participation difficult. But the right, the duty and the responsibility remain.
Make a difference. Vote!
Featured image by Alan Cleaver. No changes made. Creative Commons License.