The Struggle of Being an Active Citizen

This week, with many other registered voters in Arizona, I received my early mail-in ballot. The first section on the ballot is for the presidential election. I looked at the names in extreme panic because I still don’t know who the best fit for the country is. I sat in my kitchen for ten minutes contemplating who to vote for, and then it hit me: how much does my vote really matter? I figured that it doesn’t matter, especially because Arizona is historically a red state, and Trump is going to win by a landslide. However, in this very strange election cycle, Arizona is now up as a swing state. This really brought me back to Judith Shklar’s idea in American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, where she explains the importance of voting. How thousands of people before us fought for the explicit right to vote- yet so many of us refuse to go to the polls or check a box on our ballots.

In her chapter about voting, she says “Others think that voting is a meaningless gesture for the many people who feel that the political system is indifferent to their concerns who can see no point in taking part in a ritual that has no bearing on their lives… For the voters, on the other hand, voting is “an affirmation of belonging” rather than the exercise of a right.” She then adds later in the chapter that “To be refused the right was to be almost a slave, but once one possessed the right, it conferred no other personal advantages. Not the exercise, only the right, signified deeply.” I believe that quote explains how almost every American feels about voting one way or another. Some, like myself, are stuck in the paradox that voting is important, but it may or may not really matter when you look at it as a whole. At the same token, people like to be able to say they voted for the XYZ candidate, and the same candidate won the general election. To be a  part of that “community” is special and important to some citizens.

So is it that now that we all have the right to vote, people do it less often? If one party (be it race, gender, social class etc.) didn’t poses the right to vote, would others take it more seriously? To me, the significance of voting isn’t enough. Surely it’s great that all American’s despite their race, gender, social class etc. can exercise the right to vote, but how serious is it if no one votes? According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2012 only 50% of Americans actually vote.

So back to my original dilemma, does my vote really matter? The startling percentage that only half of American’s vote is very unsettling to me. So even though my vote may or may not be a deal breaker in the scheme of things, I do not want to be lumped into the 50% of people that don’t take advantage of their right to vote.

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7 Responses to The Struggle of Being an Active Citizen

  1. offthewals says:

    I really like how you examined Shklar’s work and applied it to your own life. As for the part where you mentioned that “Arizona is historically a red state, and Trump is going to win by a landslide”, Its interesting how you said Arizona has become more of a swing state. If you’re a democrat (and it sounds like you are) I believe it’s definitely not hopeless. There is a chance Arizona could go blue this year. To address why people don’t vote, I think a lot of it has to do with ignorance. Many people choose not to stay up to date on politics because their lives simply don’t revolve around them. This obviously isn’t desired because it threatens the concept of a fair democracy, but it’s better to have people who haven’t educated themselves on candidates and polices not vote than to have them vote blindly. And finally, as far as whether or not your vote matters, it probably doesn’t. A single individual vote in a general election doesn’t make an impact. However, Shklar examines the concept of voting as a block and how this can in fact effect the outcome of elections. If you were able to get everyone who agrees with your political ideology to go out and vote on election day (or fill out a mail in), Arizona would be a blue state in the 2016 election.

  2. As the official Voting Rights Director for a statewide nonprofit focused on increasing voter turnout, I confirm with a resounding YES that your vote does indeed matter. Even if you are not voting for the winning candidate in an election, it must be clear that there is an active minority party attempting to participate in the political system. Competition in the political arena is critical to maintaining a healthy democracy, even if a democrat in a red state doesn’t win, it says something to the winning candidate that X thousand voters did not vote for them. Indeed, when an election is close for a candidate you oppose, it will keep elected officials on their toes and more sensitive to the issues important to you.

    A secondary point, primaries are such a critical component to our political system that so few people participate in. Indeed, I went to vote in the primaries in August and found that I was only the 43rd person at my precinct of over 10,000 voters! And this happens when primaries are usually the closest elections. Look at this link (https://results.arizona.vote/) and you will see a primary race between two conservatives that was decided by only SIXTEEN votes. SIXTEEN. Think of that. Another was decided by only 32 votes. And some others were decided by only a few hundred. If you know a republican is likely to be elected, go vote in their primary and choose a more liberal candidate that suits your politics more.

    So you may not want a certain elected official, but we have to accept the choices our fellow citizens make on election day. Yes, we would even have to respect a Donald Trump victory if it did happen. Why? Because those are the rules of democracy. While the results may not always pan out how we want them to, the system itself is fair.

    SO VOTE DAMMIT.

  3. reneucros says:

    Kevyn it seems that you’re very confused on who to vote for and I totally understand. I am not sure if you were able to vote in the last election or not but what I found helpful in the previous(my first) election was to do research on both of the candidates and see which one appeals to me better. This election, quite obviously, is a weird one because there are so many things to dislike about both candidates regardless of policy, even though we definitely should still pay attention to their positions. The media seems to be making it worse because they are assisting in the mudslinging which doesn’t help anybody. However, no matter how we vote, it is important that we do. Not just because others fought for our right, and also not just because we need to exercise is once we receive that right; but because only half of the country and that number is getting bigger every cycle. The people are underrepresented but then they complain about president blah blah because they suck. Quite, I don’t think any nonvoter has the right to complain about any president or policy if they didn’t vote. Do you ever use your debit card and then check your account a few days later thinking you have $100 and you only have $10? That because people don’t realize that the pennies stack up and even though your vote doesn’t count, it makes a difference in the big picture. No matter who you vote for, VOTE! Hopefully you do as much research as possible before you do.

  4. mnjacks1 says:

    Your post really summarizes the struggles a lot of citizens are having this election. We are in this elite group capable of voting, yet many of us don’t. It’s crazy to think that this right is so easily discarded. I’m a firm believer that every vote matters, but not everyone sees it this way. In this election especially, a big question is whether it is better to vote for “the lesser of the two evils” or simply not vote at all.

  5. azwoodland says:

    Kevyn,

    I would like to begin by perhaps offering perhaps, a bit of hope. Voter turnout is not as low as you cited. According to the US Census Bureau, 56.5 percent of eligible citizens voted in 2012. This is just down from the 62.3 who voted in 2008, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center (http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/2012-voter-turnout/)

    Historically, these aren’t particularly low numbers. In fact, they are above the median. I did some quick number crunching and the median voter turnout for presidential elections in the past hundred years is 55.7% of the eligible electorate. Things are looking up. (For the record, this varies a bit depending on the source you look at and the error, I just used Wikipedia’s chart citing the U.S. Census Bureau and The American Presidency Project.)

    We are so fortunate to be registered to vote in Arizona, not only a state that does early voting, but mail-in voting. It’s almost as if, bar the fact that you are not registered to vote, there is no excuse to not vote. Consider for a moment, the state of New York. In New York, there is no early voting – all votes are cast, save absentee ballots, in person at a polling place on election day. There are so many obstacles to voting! Weather, work, childcare, long lines – all struggles you and I are able to avoid. We have the luxury of sitting with our ballots and our computers, researching the candidates as we move down the ballot.

    Making the decision of who to vote for, especially for President, is a weighty one. But I encourage you to think about what impacts you the most, which issues you feel strongly about, and vote for the candidate whom you feel will aligns with your positions. For example, as a biochemistry student who is studying the effects of climate change on a specific pathogen, the environment is very important to me. From that reason alone, I can eliminate one candidate immediately. Also, you may be interested in one of the many online questionnaires which tell you who your beliefs side with the most. I prefer this one: http://www.isidewith.com/

    The most important thing though, is to be informed. Vote for who you want to vote for. Take your time, we have 19 days until the election! Your vote matters, your voice matters. Don’t waste it.

  6. cckremer says:

    Kevyn, I think the voting issues you raise are especially important, particularly with such a large voting population currently not voting, and an individual vote maybe being “worthless”. However, I believe that an individual vote, especially in elections such as these, are extremely important. I say that because exercising your right to vote reinforces your claims as a citizen who is capable of influencing elections, and because you never know how an election will turn out. With results like the British exit of the EU [1] and Colombia refusing a Farc peace deal [2], I think it is safe to say that individual voting matters more than ever. Regardless of one’s personal opinions on either of these votes, the fact that the margins were so narrow is important in today’s society, especially with regard to local elections, where these close votes occur very commonly. Additionally, I believe that voting does matter, and people want to take advantage of their right to vote, but many people cannot justify the time required to vote on the big day (however silly this sounds, this is often an excuse). I find it interesting that 56 countries hold their election days on a weekend, as compared to the 15 that hold theirs on weekdays [3]. The countries holding election days on weekends also report higher voting percentages, and this solution does not require election day to be a holiday. Increasing the number of voters does bring up the idea that an individual vote is worth less, but I think it is important that we attempt to influence our democracy, rather than letting others decide (without retort) the direction of our nation.

    [1] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887
    [2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37537252
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Election_day

  7. Keyvn,

    I think you outline the inner struggle of a voter very well. I believe this is an inner dialogue that voters across the world go through. In a sense, the great majority of people recognize that there is some type of importance in voting, but when we look at the macro level of voting; in a sea of millions of votes, how much weight can my one vote have? Your mention of the 50% of Americans who don’t vote according to 2012 report by the United States Census Bureau perfectly quantifies this dilemma of voters. What I would add, is that those in power recognize the immense power of your one vote even when you do not. Millions of dollars are spent on votes every election cycle. Further, if your vote did not count why would those in power do so much to take it away. Every Voter Suppression law that has ever existed proves the power each and every vote holds. Additionally, I would like to add the an active citizen is not simply one who votes, but one who is active in their community inside and outside of election cycles.

    Cheers!

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