Voting: Not Just a Right, but a Responsibility

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

This week I reported for my first jury duty, and there I was shown a film regarding the importance and procedure of jury service. The video included overenthusiastic interviewees but also a message which impacted me quite a bit. It highlighted that two of our most important civil rights—the right to a trial by jury and the right to vote—correspond with the responsibility to report for jury duty when summoned and the responsibility to vote.

People all over the United States feel disenfranchised. By their calculations, their votes don’t count so why pointlessly jump through hoops? Increasingly common is a conflict between dissatisfaction with the candidates and a desire not to “waste one’s vote” or “draw votes away” from the lesser-of-two-evils candidate. Others consider themselves under-informed and refrain from voting out of fear of making the wrong choice. With objections like these, how can voting be called a responsibility?

Imagine you are on a soccer team that is in a community tournament at a local park. Your team is pretty good this year and even made it to the semifinals this Saturday. Unfortunately, your boss needs you to finish a project with your colleagues at the same time as the game. You can’t be in two places at once, and you decide that work takes priority over soccer…this time. But you still want to do the responsible thing for your team so you decide to send someone in your place—luckily this is allowed by the rules of the tournament.

In your place, you would probably send someone who can play soccer, maybe even better than you can. You would choose someone who has Saturday free, who would mesh well with your team, who would not argue excessively with the referees or commit too many fouls against your opponents. In short, you would select someone you could trust to represent you well when you could not be there. Elections work a lot like this; since it is not feasible for everyone in the United States to vote on every piece of legislation at the local, state, and national levels, we send representatives to vote on legislation on our behalf.

You probably know at least one person who thinks, “Who cares about voting?” We should care—we, the voters between the ages of 18 and 29. Apart from the idea that policies enacted today will directly affect our lives tomorrow, a decision to vote is a matter of adequate representation of our interests. Historically, we have by far the largest population but are the least likely age group to vote in any election. As a result, young adults and their needs have been disregarded by politician after politician who has had no reason to pay attention to such an unfruitful demographic.

We are a force to be reckoned with, but candidates need to know that we will vote and that it will make a difference, as it began to do in 2008. Then when their terms are up, we must hold our representatives to the promises they’ve made. Only then will there be movement on policy issues we care about (like student loans and jobs).

Young adults should recognize that elections have two purposes. First, citizens vote to exert their influence on government by choosing their representation and indicating issues of importance. Second, elections help us hold our politicians accountable to the promises they have made. These goals make voting our responsibility, our obligation to contribute to the political community of the country, our opportunity to seek and maybe even achieve the kind of results we want from our elected officials.

-Sarah Pitts is a senior at Gordon College studying political science.
Photo courtesy of KOMUnews