The Importance of Voting | October 7, 2016

The Importance of Voting

My first opportunity to vote came in 1976. Because I was away at college, my mother sent me an absentee ballot. She did the same for my two older brothers and younger sister – all of us were in college that year. My mom grew up in a family that respected politics during a time where politicians, especially Presidents, were held in high esteem even if you disagreed with their policies. Her father was a Yale professor of philosophy and religion and during her childhood, the United States was recovering from the Great Depression and was engaged in WWII. As a history teacher and involved citizen, she felt that it was very important that we take advantage of this civic opportunity and be involved with the process of deciding who should govern our cities, states and nation.

In the 1976 presidential elections, a relatively unknown Jimmy Carter, Governor of Georgia, was running against President Gerald Ford. Ford became President in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

So in my junior year of college, when I first had the opportunity to vote, the economy was weak, we were just exiting a long, costly and unpopular war in Vietnam and the public was cynical about politics due to the Watergate scandal. It was an interesting time, since the tumultuous 60s still resonated with many college students.

While I did not pretend to know all of the issues, I got to work and started researching and asking questions so that when I mailed in my absentee ballot, I felt confident that I was making informed choices and that I had a voice in this important process. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from engaging in a process that involves the entire nation and is, potentially, so important to our future.

Many people do not vote. Their excuse is that their vote won't really matter anyway or that the outcome of the election doesn't really matter to their day-to-day lives. I disagree. I hope that the seniors in this room who are 18 are registered and will take advantage of having their voices heard. As you may remember, Oliver Simon and Brittany Berry, as 8th graders, registered potential voters last spring after a morning meeting in a wonderful display of civic engagement. Matt Smith and Blake Kernen will be in the lobby after assembly to register you if you are 18 or older.

Even if you are not old enough to vote, here are some reasons that you should look forward to voting when your time comes. Voting is your voice – study the issues and express yourself.

A higher turnout makes our democracy more representative. Do we really want 60% of our citizens making decisions for all of us?

When you vote, you are not just voting for the President. Local elections are also where you voice your opinions on the issues that can most directly affect you, including reproductive rights, public school control and discrimination laws. Who you choose this November to lead your local and state governments — whether as your governor, mayor, city council member, or your state senator — will have a serious impact on the life of your community. When we vote for our state and local officials, we make choices that will have very direct and concrete effects on our daily lives.

Finally, voting is a right that generations of Americans struggled to win ― and people in other countries are still fighting for. African Americans earned the right to vote when the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, soon after the end of the Civil War. During the women's suffrage movement in the early 1900s, suffragists argued that the franchise, the right to vote, was the most important right that any citizen could have. Without it, how would you be able to institute change of any kind? Women gained the right to vote in in 1920 when the 19th amendment was ratified. So when my mother was born, women had only had the right to vote for 8 years. One should never take the right to vote for granted, and we are lucky to live in a country where we have this opportunity.

So what are some of the big issues facing us in this election?

Here are a few:
  • The economy
  • Environment and science
  • Criminal Justice and race relations
  • Health Care
  • Privacy and data security
  • Terrorism
  • Foreign Policy
  • Education
  • Religion and social issues
  • Gun Control
  • Immigration

Your job is to research these issues. Where do the candidates stand on these important topics? Might I suggest that you are comprehensive and scholarly in how you approach your research. Do not rely on only one source, whether it is a TV network or newspaper – become informed. For example, Spencer Bridges watches four different television stations.

While many people in the US select a candidate for their likability, if that is even a word, you should consider, specifically, how they propose to strengthen our country not just for you or for me, but for all of us. What legacy will they leave?

Every election cycle brings discord and conflict, although this year seems more strident than any that I can remember. In fact, some of the rhetoric used by some of our politicians and media figures flies in the face of what we teach you about respect, empathy, humility, awareness of different perspectives and connectedness - attributes that are so carefully spelled out in our Values Statement.

Fortunately, we have experienced in our country an amazing ability to hand power from one party to the next over the years. We even survived a Civil War that tested our form of government. This is the strength of our democracy. That we can abide by the will of the people as expressed through their willingness to go to the voting booth and cast their ballot. Conflict, when handled correctly strengthens. Conflict when mismanaged destroys.* Thankfully, we live in a nation where we settle our conflicts peacefully.

So why do I vote? Because it is critical in a democracy and to put it simply, because I am extremely grateful that I live in a country where I can.

*Ben Wallace


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