You’ve heard the pitch. You’ve seen the commercials. You’ve read the billboards. You’ve seen your friends share videos on Facebook. You’ve received countless mailers and postcards… Must I go on? The message is everywhere.
Your vote counts.
We live, work, and play in a country that prides itself on its democratic system (unless you’re reading this blog from a country outside of the United States, which means that my readership is way more impressive than I realized). We were all raised on the notion that we live in a government by the people and for the people, and that at the end of the day, each and every one of our voices has the ability to be heard through something as seemingly-simple-yet-truly-significant as a vote.
But did you know that the fundamentally American “right to vote” was not always our right? “Contrary to popular belief, the United States’ Constitution did not originally guarantee citizens the ‘right to vote.’ The United States was created with the understanding that only certain individuals would make the decisions when it came to government.” Our country has spent years trying to rectify this mistake. In 1870, Blacks were given the right to vote through the 15th Amendment. In 1920, women earned the right the vote through the 19th Amendment. In fact, we were extending the right to vote all the way up to 1971, when we allowed US citizens 18 and older to vote through the 26th Amendment. We have worked hard to develop a culture that follows the mantra of “every vote counts,” and yet only 57.5% of Americans exercised this right in the 2012 Presidential election.
Now, personally, when I first learned that fact I was appalled. I don’t know if it was just because I was raised in a household that stressed the importance of voting and voicing your opinion (often overly so), but only a little more than half of our population voting left me flabbergasted. And then I realized… Is that number really that shocking? Was our country ever at a 100% voter turnout? 80%? I didn’t have any other facts to compare it to, just a general consensus of “people don’t vote like they used to” that may or may not be true. So I did what I often do when confronted with a dilemma such as this one. I googled.
It took me a few tries to get what I was looking for, because, truly, the art of googling is much harder than it appears at first glance. I don’t know if some people are born with the magic of knowing the right keywords, but I know I was not. I ranged from “Did people used to vote?” to “Has voting decreased?” I read a statistical brief from the Bureau of the Census from November of 1991, stating “though there have been fluctuations up and down, the percentage of those voting is now lower than it was 2 decades ago.” I was on the right track! I felt pretty positive with my not-so-super-sleuthy skills, but I still wanted to find more facts. Google, perhaps sensing my distress and doing what it does best, recommended “American voter turnout over time,” and there it was. A beautiful graph of statistical information ranging from 1916 to 2014.
And do you know what I learned? 57.5% of the population turning out to vote is apparently right on par with our American voting habits for the last 100 years. Our lowest point? 48.9% in 1924. Highest? Only 63.8% in 1960. The Bureau of the Census was right, there IS a lot of fluctuation, but the median generally puts us around the mid-to-high 50s. And do you know what else? I am still a little appalled.
Okay, maybe appalled is a strong word, but I am pretty shocked. To live in a country that boasts as many freedoms as we do, that preaches the essential qualities of a democracy in order to preserve the rule of the majority, that raises its children to believe that they are important and that even their tiny voices can be heard and make a difference, and to see that, on average, at least 40% of our voices are not being heard… It is disheartening.
So now comes the moment for me to stand on my soapbox, just for a moment, and say this: You are important. Your opinion matters. And I want you to do whatever you can to make your cute, little heart happy. I don’t care what you believe and I don’t care who you believe in, I only care that you speak. So this Tuesday, November 8, instead of remaining silent, be heard.
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