[I wrote this on the plane. Then I got back home and turned on the election results. I’m disheartened to say the least. That negates none of what follows.]
I vote for a lot of reasons. Primarily because it seems like the right thing to do and I feel guilty if I don’t. But mostly that reason says a lot more about me than about the act itself (ENFJ, #1 Enneagram, Oldest Child, etc.). Just like I feel guilt if I miss church, fail to complete an assignment fully, or don’t finish my leftovers: it’s the right thing to do. But just like I have much better and deeper reasons for doing the former things, I have some other reasons why Election Day is one of my favorite days of the year:
- I vote because I can. I remember being allowed to accompany either my mom or dad to their polling place growing up, being so excited for when I would get my own piece of paper, and have my own selections counted up, while watching the numbers tick up at the bottom of the screen later that night. So sacred did they consider the right—nay, privilege—to secret ballot, that often I was not allowed in the booth with them. That perspective has certainly carried over to me. This election day, as I scrolled through dozens of facebook statuses proclaiming each had voted, and reminding others to do the same, I came across one that caused me pause. My dad’s wife grew up in Liberia. She intimately knows the inability, inaccessibility, and uncertainty of a free electoral process. Her status read: “I love voting. It always moves me to tears. I am blessed to live in a country where I can freely vote my conscience with no repercussions.” Yes. I vote because I can. Without fear of violence, threat, or coercion.
- I vote because I am a citizen, and it is my responsibility. We are fortunate to live in a society in which the democratic process is a given. At the core of our country’s political values (at least at their most idealistic) are certain freedoms—freedom to choose, to believe, to speak. Because we are not a direct democracy, the most important way we ‘speak’ is in electing officials who will govern, initiate change (or block it), create laws or deconstruct unjust laws, and appoint officials who will seek justice for all members of our society. I vote because I have a responsibility to speak my voice.
- I vote because it is the first step. My rights and responsibilities as a citizen do not begin and end with voting. Many of us are wont to begrudge the selection come election day. We say that we’re “given” only a choice between ‘worse’ and ‘worser.’ The truth is that we are the ones who have given us the choice. The political process is ongoing, and involves advocacy, activism, and involvement.
- I vote because everything I’ve already said is idealistic bullcrap. And I hate that. That our political process is often mere formalism, that our politicians are often all full of the same dirty tricks and victim to the same big money, that our own idealism renders us lazy and hopeless, angers me, frustrates me, stirs me into inertia. But I still believe in our Constitution, which speaks for freedom, equality, justice, the pursuit of happiness. I believe that I am responsible to and for other people, and my voice as my vote is an important (though often tiny) part of that. I vote because I want to believe in idealism and I want to believe in progress. I want to believe I’ve done a small something.
- I vote because others cannot. There are disenfranchised members of our society, and we have many labels for them. I am privileged. I know the system. I know the system so well, sometimes I forget to recognize that I am a participant in all of its rules, regulations, norms, and values. I vote for myself and for them.
- And I vote because I may one day have a daughter I can take along to the polling place, and I want to tell her about voting. I want to let her wear my “I Voted” sticker, and be proud of democracy. I want to tell her about voting early because I would be out of town. I want to tell her about voting for winning candidates and losing candidates. I want to be an example to her and instill in her the same idealistic, sacred values of speaking for ourselves and for others.