Refusal to Vote Undermines Democracy


(Hunter Benegas/The Fordham Ram)

The 2016 presidential election was the first election that I ever bothered to care about. I was 15 years old with hardly any knowledge about politics besides the fact that everyone around me hated talking about it. Still, something about the polarity between the candidates and the constant controversy peaked my interest.

I wasn’t a fan of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Neither was pretty much anyone I knew. This was the general consensus of many people, and voters had a difficult task at hand: to pick the lesser of two evils. In this historic election, disapproval ratings for both candidates were among the highest America had ever seen. The average disapproval rating of then-candidate Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton were 58.5% and 54.4%, respectively. These are the highest rates we have seen thus far, since most past presidential candidates fell well below 50%.

Americans are constantly told that each individual vote matters and that the fate of the country rests with the people. These sentiments make it even more difficult to pry oneself away from the negative aspects of each candidate. However, as the years go by, it seems as though neither Republicans nor Democrats can find a candidate that pleases the American majority.

Although I was unable to vote at the time of the 2016 election, I recall being genuinely bothered by people who refused to vote altogether. After President Donald Trump was elected — without winning the popular vote, I may add — I promised myself that I would cast a ballot for every election that occurred from the day I turned 18.

During the 2018 election cycle, I worked at a local polling site. Throughout some of the slower moments of the generally hectic day, I passed the time by calling friends and family. I called my parents and was disappointed to hear that no one in my immediate family planned on voting, even though they were all of-age. They told me that they felt it was a waste of time since it was not a presidential election. Later, I discovered that they had not voted in the historic 2016 election either because they simply could not decide on which candidate deserved their votes.

I forced both my parents and my brother to drive the measly five minutes from our house to the polling site where I was working to cast a vote. Maybe their votes didn’t completely alter the fate of the election, but I was still proud that my family played its role in democracy.

Today, with the disappointing production put on by the Iowa caucuses not too far behind us, I have no idea how I am going to keep 15-year-old Emma’s promise to America. It can be challenging to continue encouraging people to vote when turnout results thus far have been well below expected rates.

As I obsessively follow the 2020 election this upcoming November, my ballot will be among those that decide the fate of the nation. I grow more and more terrified to vote. Maybe my fear stems from the responsibility I feel to make the best decision, or maybe it stems from my gut expectations. Despite who becomes president, growing bipartisanship in our country will not allow for any meaningful changes to be made. Regardless, I am going to do it. I am going to vote in both the primaries and the general election, even if my decisions keep me awake at night.

This is what I urge all American citizens to do. I recognize there are people who simply cannot vote for reasons that are perfectly valid, but this should further provide incentive to those who can to cast a ballot.

I learned in my high school U.S. government class that it is a citizen’s civic duty to vote. So why is it that so many people abstain from such an important responsibility? Granted, it says a great deal about our political system that so many people, like myself, are so deeply rattled by this year’s election that they are unable to decide at all. Despite this, though, change will never arise if people sit idly by and hope someone else will play their part for them.

For these reasons, there should be no excuse to decidedly abstain from voting. However, I can sympathize with caucusing states, considering the inaccessibility and complexity of the procedure that naturally deters voters. To everyone else, though, all eyes are on you to vote at every election.