The US Constitution refers to voting as a right five times. However, when these words were written, white, land-owning males were the only ones who could place their vote and shape American policy. While minorities and women eventually gained suffrage, this wasn’t an easy fight or obvious choice. The ability to vote in a democratic republic is a privilege that many of us often take for granted.
Americans are offered the choice to vote on referendum questions, elect local government officials, and participate in choosing the next head of our nation. While this process can be obscured by bureaucratic red tape, the complexity of our electoral college, and gerrymandering of marginalized communities, it is a freedom that citizens are granted when they turn 18 and can use to make a difference.
While not everyone finds joy in filling out a ballot, the process is crucial for a healthy and functioning democracy. With low voter turnouts, the voice of the people is minimized—the interests of the public can be ignored, our communities are not accurately represented, and progress is hindered. Voting is a civic duty that relies on participation from the public; while it can bolster important social movements, it also simply allows our government to function.
For representative policy and just officials to gain power, the public must pay attention and demonstrate their values on the ballot. This is possible when more demographics get out their vote.
Older generations typically have higher voter registration rates and can influence policy to fit their desires. While the voice of the youth may be loud, their political leverage suffers when younger individuals don’t vote. They are the most diverse voting group and policies will impact their lives for longer; when students graduate in a few years, they will be searching for jobs in the work force and might be dealing with student loan debt. They could be paying for their own health insurance, beginning to buy houses, or starting new business ventures. These issues may seem distant to young people, but will drastically shape the start of their lives—by voting now, they can benefit in the future.
Some individuals believe their vote won’t actually make a difference. However, it’s one of the few mediums that actually allows people to give direct input on the policies and leaders that shape their lives. Even if your candidate isn’t elected, the popularity of the vote can call attention to issues that might otherwise be overlooked. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, your vote is important and can create positive change.
Some of the currently debated issues may not impact all of our lives to the same extent, like immigration or women’s healthcare. However, they can affect the livelihoods of our neighbors, friends, or strangers we’ve never met. By abstaining from voting, we are letting others make concrete changes to our system that can hurt ourselves or others.
Voting may be a constitutional right, but people have died trying to defend it. Others around the world are still trying to fight for it. We shouldn’t take this for granted. The Massachusetts Presidential Primary is Tuesday, March 3, and Election Day is November 3—defend your rights, choose which issues are important for your values, and vote.