Historically, the United States has had surprisingly low voter turnouts, even on very important election days. Voting is one of the privileges of living in a democracy and the primary way people express their political opinions and make their voice heard.
Of course, some people cannot vote because they don’t have citizenship, they are too young, or they’re incarcerated. Other people do not vote because it is difficult to do so—confusing voter registration processes, lack of early voting, long lines at polling sites, and strict voter photo ID laws are all forms of voter suppression. Still others can vote, but choose not to for a variety of reasons, from political apathy to the belief that their single voice does not make a difference.
However, voting really does matter. It is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Significant political change is possible when people mobilize to get their voice heard. Anyone who chooses not to vote should think critically about this decision and determine what’s stopping them. If you need a few reasons why you should vote, consider the following:
1. Voting is an equalizer.
People may think that systemic change is driven only by politicians, lawyers, and activists, but in reality, everyone has an equal voice through voting. All citizens get an equal say through democracy provided that they cast a ballot. The results of an election have real consequences for how your country, state, county, and city operate.
Even if you know that you do not have the majority opinion on a subject, it is important to show up and let that minority voice be heard. After all, people creating public policy pay close attention to the will of the voters, and elected officials must appeal to the people who will vote for them to be elected. Politicians and public sector officials pay attention to poll results and not just the winning votes. If a particular minority opinion gains traction with each election, it puts pressure on policymakers to address the issue.
2. Democracy depends on voting.
Democracy is only sustainable when the people living under the government vote. The word “democracy” comes from the Greek works for “people” and “power.” Voting is the way that people exercise their power in a democracy. While a democratic system has its own problems and, certainly, the American approach has flaws, it is still better than options like dictatorships and monarchies, which completely rob people of their voices. Remember that democracy is far better than the other options if you start to feel like your voice doesn’t matter. The only voice in a democracy that doesn’t matter is the one that does not get heard.
3. Community is built by voters.
Communities depend on everyone expressing their opinions and needs. In a democratic system, voting is the way people take part in their larger community, whether that means their city, state, or the whole country. When people do not vote, they are not just letting themselves down, but their communities, since the results of the election will not accurately represent the will of the collective. People have a responsibility to tell their communities what they want. Otherwise, a minority of people end up shaping how the community functions. Government affects virtually every aspect of our lives, and voting provides critical feedback about whether it is doing a good job or not. Situations only change when people express a desire for something different.
4. Voting demonstrates independence.
Most people value the ability to think independently. After all, no one likes to be told what to do all the time. Anyone who values independence should consider voting extremely important. The Declaration of Independence was not just about the colonies’ freedom from Britain, but also personal liberties. Voting is the ultimate form of this personal liberty. When people do not vote, they fail to exercise this independence and signal that they are willing to go along with whatever decisions are made for them.
5. Refusing to vote is surrender.
Sometimes, people choose not to vote because they think the act of refusal is rebellion. In reality, not casting a ballot signals giving up, not a willful act of refusal. If a significant number of people take this attitude, the status quo would never change. Bad leaders are often elected by the people who did not vote, rather than the people who actively supported the bad candidate.
Throughout history, many different groups have fought hard to earn the right to vote. When the US was founded, only property-owning or tax-paying white males could vote—women, Black men, and poor white men could not vote. Gradually, more and more groups of people have gained voting rights after long struggles.
Failing to vote surrenders this right and dishonors people who have been oppressed, both in the past and today. When people vote, they recognize the hard work that has been done to give them that right. The true act of rebellion is voting according to your personal beliefs and preferences to let the world know where you stand and ensure that each viewpoint receives its due recognition.