Why You Should Vote

Evan Hugge '23

Last Tuesday, I voted for the first time, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what our right to vote means in a republic. The late civil rights leader John Lewis once said that voting is “the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society.” As a young man, Lewis grew up in a South where all too often he was denied the right to vote, so he had a special insight into the power of the ballot box. Having experienced powerlessness, he found power in his most fundamental right as an American, a right that has long been at the center of many of the greatest social upheavals in this country’s history.

All too often, people, especially young people, fail to recognize the importance of John Lewis’ words, and the words of countless leaders and activists before him. Whenever an election comes around, as it did the past week, there is an air of apathy, a feeling that a single vote doesn’t matter. And, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t. Your vote will never swing an election. The votes of thousands, however, can change an election, and there are certainly thousands who decided not to vote last Tuesday. Perhaps all these people felt the same way, that their vote was inconsequential and insignificant.

The beautiful thing about democracy is that they are wrong: each vote holds as much significance as any other. The vote of a blue collar steelworker in Pittsburgh matters as much as the vote of a teacher in Omaha, which matters as much as the vote of the President himself. The ballot box is in many ways the great equalizer in our democratic society, and when you think about it that way, it is truly beautiful.

Well, you might be saying, we’re not the only people in the world who can vote. They vote in Iceland, Brazil, and Japan. What makes us so special? What is special about us is that the United States has no national identity in the traditional sense. We have no official language, no state religion, no common cultural or ethnic background to unite us. What we have is a tradition of democracy that spans back centuries, and a culture built upon the idea, however imperfect in historical practice, that power lies in the hands of the people. Without this culture of democracy, we are nothing but squabbling masses divided amongst ourselves, many nations instead of one. To put it simply, democracy is what defines us. If we do not vote, we are not only ignoring our common democratic heritage, but we are eroding trust in the civic institutions which give this nation its identity.

Voting is not only our right, but our duty. It is our opportunity, an opportunity which can never be taken for granted, to point our nation in the direction we want to see it go. The system is not perfect, and it certainly never has been, but it is our best chance to preserve the thing that makes this country special. I know that may seem like a cliché, but it is as true now as it ever has been. My final message is this- sophomores and juniors, in two years you are going to be offered a stake in the nation’s future. Don’t pass that opportunity up, because you never know when it could be taken from you.