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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The right to vote and what it means

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Opinions

Election season has thankfully concluded. Mass media will cease to play political advertisements and discuss the Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney saga. I am proud to say that this election felt very much alive in political spirit between both parties and across all ages. During election season, it is quite common to hear people talk about voting as a privilege or something that must be done. Most people see voting as part of our duty as citizens, but I think this is quite flawed. Our citizenship can be reflected beyond the act of voting. Why should voting hold much more weight than any other form of civic engagement? For Americans, many of us see it as the ultimate way for our voices to be heard; the one time every four years that we have the most active decision-making in our country.

American history shows that voting has always been a hyper-political topic. For several populations, the obstacles to gain suffrage were far greater and truly did give them a voice in society. The meaning of a vote is relative to the historical context. Using the women’s suffrage movement as an example, democracy was incomplete without the right to vote. Through this, voting has become a symbolic act in American culture. It shows that we are actively engaging our government by determining its course. Without voting, democracy would ultimately fail. Citizens find solace in having the right to voice their opinion and voting is an extension of this form of expression. If one does not vote, they lose that chance to express their opinion. But an individual is not worse off by choosing not to vote.

I think the issue comes out of this differentiation between those who do and do not vote. It becomes a form of “othering,” with those who choose not to vote seen as somehow throwing away democracy and not performing their civic duty. This feeling of obligation toward voting is something that I do not understand. There are many valid reasons to not want to vote. In this past election, I personally did not feel totally invested in either candidate. Many of my peers also based their votes on “the lesser of two evils,” seeing both candidates as bad choices. This is why the decision not to vote should not be a scrutinized issue. In a predominantly two-party system, there is always a seemingly black-and-white decision, a 50-50 shot of making a good choice. If neither candidate suits your needs as a citizen, then you oblige yourself to vote on a false foundation. But if you do not vote, then you are seen as not exercising your privilege and deemed foolish by those who do vote. This is a catch that I feel many people get trapped in during the election seasons.

Moreover, the electoral college system poses another reason why voting should not be taken as seriously. The electoral college deems certain states more valuable than others. This is a very real discrepancy in the ultimate form of democracy. Every vote should count for one vote and the sum determines the winner of the race. No other nation has an electoral college and I am inclined to believe that there is no incentive to its implementation. This system creates the dynamic of presidential elections in America. In addition, states are simply arbitrary delineations of populations in America. If the states were broken up differently under the electoral college, that would change the outcome of any election. Yet we cannot change the historical context in which we have developed and that leaves several aspects of our nation, and the political process, arbitrary.

Although I find the amount of activism in each election empowering, I feel that a lot of energy in our society gets wasted on the elections and party politics rather than on the actual issues at hand. For example, instead of going door-to-door and making phone calls for presidential candidates, those same citizens could do that for civic issues during the non-election season. People only seem to be active during election periods and then act politically dormant during the rest of the year. Those people are missing the point of civic duty. Ultimately, for me, our civic duty should involve promoting the greater good, not the greatest candidate. Party politics have no place in the success of our country. Each of us are entrusted one vote. What comes with that vote is more important than the vote itself. Democracy believes in the individual and we are fortunate to be able to act as individuals in the eyes of our government.

That is why we see voting as a privilege. Not every nation allows democracy and not every individual has a voice. In this vein, we should all embrace that we have the right to vote. Most of us do not know anything other than having this right. But I refuse to vote for a presidential candidate solely because somebody else in the world does not have this same right. I will only thoughtfully vote for the candidate who I truly believe is the better choice and who aligns with my core principles. If neither candidate seems to be the right choice, I will not vote. We like to believe that the individual vote is what matters, but there is an individual behind every vote. Voting does not make our country better, individuals make our country better.