In 1787, at the closing of the Constitutional Convention, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government we had in the United States: a republic or a monarchy. His reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our founding father knew what he was saying: a republic is not something that is firmly established from the time of its proclamation, it isn’t a system that is constructed to last forever. A republic is something that you build day after day—like a home, where you never stop making changes, additions, and improvements. The day you stop giving a house this constant loving care, it falls into disrepair. And then it takes a lot of work to put it back together again!
The same thing happens with a republic: you have to work on it in order to make it into the place where you want to live. There are many ways for us to help shape the country we dream of for ourselves and for our children. Voting—and doing so responsibly—is one of the most important ways that this can be done. Why vote in the November General Election? What does it mean to cast your ballot as an American citizen? We should all ask ourselves these questions, and each of us may end up finding different valid answers. Here, the editors of Sol de Medianoche provide just ten reasons why, in our opinion, voting is such an essential thing:
1. Because the US is a country of immigrants and because we immigrants should have voices representing us in Congress and in the government. We need these voices to talk about our needs, to defend us and to make sure we will not be ignored or forgotten.
2. Because when we vote we are reminded that we are all equal before the law, and we ensure that we will be treated fairly. No one is more vulnerable than someone who is invisible. By adding all of our ballots to the boxes, we make our community visible: we come out of the shadows. Voting is like telling the political class, “Here we are, there are many of us, and we have rights.”
3. Because in a republic like the US, each vote is counted in order to create a majority. And this majority can stop people who have more power, more money or higher social standing from abusing others. Our votes together are a form of protection for us, for our families and for our community.
4. Because by voting we protect our loved ones, among them children and residents who cannot vote. Every human being, regardless of their financial situation, ethnicity, social class or gender, has a series of rights that must be upheld: the right to life, the right to safety, the right to be treated with dignity and respect... By voting, we put our trust in people who we think will make everyone respect our rights.
5. Because voting is not only about electing someone, but about selecting a government agenda. The elected candidate will be responsible for supporting health, education, employment, energy and social development programs. They will be making decisions in terms of the economy, immigration, the environment, and other issues. Voting for a candidate means being aware of all these choices.
6. Because in the US there is a balance of power between the chief of state, the Congress and the courts. This sharing of power is important because if someone behaves unreasonably or commits an injustice, others can put a stop to it. By voting for the chief of State and for House Representatives, we make sure this balance of power is not broken.
7. Because the right to vote was guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was a historic victory by people who wanted to make this country a more livable place for everyone. Not voting would betray their ideals and turn back the clock: it would almost be like saying that we do not want or deserve a country in which we can all coexist.
8. Because every vote counts: some elections in Alaska have been won by just a few votes: the Division of Elections has records of elections being won by four, six or ten votes. In 1996, the Democratic candidate in District 21 won the election by a single vote. This means that just a few ballots can decide which way an election goes. And in these cases, it is better to have cast your ballot than to have abstained.
9. Because democracy has its costs. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website OpenSecrets.org, the cost of the various parties’ presidential campaigns adds up to almost a billion dollars. The campaigns for the Senate and the House of Representatives cost around 400 million dollars each. To this we have to add the cost of the election itself: ballots, voting stations, infrastructure, the salaries of personnel from the Division of Elections. Democracy is not cheap. If we do not vote, the funds invested in the elections process will have been wasted.
10. Because if we do not take on the responsibility and cast our vote, we do not have a right to complain about the elections’ outcome.