It is no secret that the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of the developed world. In 2016, only 58 percent of eligible voters participated in the presidential election. At the state and local level, that percentage of voters is even lower, and although the 2018 midterm saw record high voter turnout at 53.4 percent, many Americans do not exercise their right to vote.
In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, nonvoters emphasize a recurring talking point—that voting in U.S. elections is pointless. To examine such a claim, Americans must consider not only who they vote to elect for political purposes, but also examine why they vote at all.
Is voting a right or a responsibility? The answer is both.
Voting is a practice not unlike the liturgy system of ancient Athens—the birthplace of democracy. This system was constructed to benefit Athenian society, as wealthy citizens financed public works to further the goals of the community. There were several reasons why these citizens participated in this system. While some participated for public recognition, others aided the polis out of true virtuous compassion.
Americans should view voting in the same virtuous light. Voting is first and foremost a public service. This service can be carried out for several political reasons, but it is unmistakably aimed at beneficially contributing to the society that it upholds.
Voting is a right
American citizens have the right to vote. While voting is not specifically protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, it is implied as a foundational tool that maintains American democracy.
The American Revolution was fought to preserve an established way of life and to secure the freedom necessary to reimagine a free society. President Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence articulates that, upon breaking from Great Britain, the new country of the United States would stand for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The method of approving this document, along with the later United States Constitution, was by casting a vote.
Voting was the very first right used by early Americans to establish the broader rights that the United States still represents today. Initially, the right to vote was heavily restricted. Only white, property-owning males were allowed to vote, which was just six percent of the population. This changed, however, with the passing of the 15th and 19th Amendments, guaranteeing suffrage for former slaves and women. Due to these amendments, every American citizen is born with the right to later vote. As such, voting is legally and historically preserved.
We vote because we can.
Voting is a responsibility
As citizens, Americans have the responsibility to vote. The Declaration of Independence states that, in order to secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Voting is the method of voicing the consent of the people.
Voting is not compulsory, but if citizens do not participate in elections they not only sacrifice their political opinion, but also stand in opposition to the foundations of democracy. The very act of voting oils the wheels of democracy and commits a society to practicing free and fair elections.
This year marks notable milestones for the 15th and 19th amendments, reminding Americans that voting is imperative. Voting today preserves the right that many fought to secure in the past. Voting is not just a political statement—it is an act of communion in remembrance and honor of those that sacrificed for the right to vote.
We vote because we should.
Voting serves a purpose
Voting is a personal act beholden to each and every citizen. There are many reasons why Americans go to the polls, but whatever the reason, voting is a public service, much like liturgy, that upholds the system of democracy in America and the world.
Today, Nov. 3, practice your right and responsibility by voting. To participate in this public service, visit vote411.org to look up your ballot and receive information on your nearest polling place.