For over 200 years American patriots have shed their blood to fight for independence, liberty, and a democratic process that puts more power into the hands of citizens than monarchs and tyrants. Our country’s history is also marked with numerous physical and political battles to expand the right to vote to millions more deserved Americans.
Unfortunately today participation in elections in the U.S. is some of the lowest among developed countries. In fact, voter turnout has not surpassed 65% since 1948.
When comparing the U.S. to other developed countries we rank 31st among 35 in terms of voter participation in the democratic process. U.S. turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 53.6%, while Belgium, Turkey, and Sweden were all above 80%. Further, only about 65% of the U.S. voting-age population was registered in 2012, compared with 91% in Canada and the United Kingdom and nearly 99% in Japan.
Often getting to the polls becomes a choice between participating in the process and another must accomplish task of the day. While balancing the time commitment on election day can be difficult we find examples throughout the world where some risk their own safety to have their voices heard. Despite threats from the Taliban, Afghan women in 2014 turned out to vote risking their own lives to cast a vote in local and presidential elections. In Nepal, some voters walked hours to reach polling places because the election commission restricted the use of unregistered vehicles on the country’s roads on election day in 2013. Despite this inconvenience, voter turnout in Nepal was 65%.
Some choose not to vote because they feel their one vote doesn’t matter. However, when you look throughout American political history, we see otherwise. In 1960, the election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was won by Kennedy but the difference was less than 120,000 votes nationally or 0.1%.
More recently the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush was razor thin. The election, ultimately won by Bush, came down to a single state and a few hundred votes. Ultimately it was a mere 537 votes out of more than 5.9 million cast in Florida that decided the outcome of the election. Perhaps most famously though was the 1948 race between Harry S. Truman and Thomas Dewey which was so close that the Chicago Tribune printed newspapers with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” and prompted one of the most famous pictures in U.S. history as President-elect Truman displayed the newspaper from the back of a train after being announced the eventual winner.
Casting our votes is our right as American, it’s what separates our democracy from some of the most oppressive tyrannical regimes still present in today’s world, and is something thousands of Americans throughout our history have fought to protect. American women fought a long battle to secure the right to vote. Many women who participated in the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 1910’s, were often jailed for their peaceful protests and in jail were often tortured, beaten and forced to live in inhumane conditions. However, their efforts were not in vain after women gained the right to vote through the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Throughout the 1960’s, many states employed discriminatory voter suppression tactics to keep African-Americans from the polls. Thus the Civil Rights Movement began in which thousands of African-Americans protested for their right to vote, often being subjected to violence like the protest on “Bloody Sunday” where 500 activists marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama only to be met by police who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas, all because they peacefully demanded the right to vote.
The feeling of freely casting your vote is something millions more around the world still do not know. On November 8th millions of Americans will cast our votes and exercise one of the most important rights bestowed to us because it preserves ALL other rights we are granted and sets the direction for our country, state and locality for years to come. This year the decision we make is a critical one about who we will be as a nation, our standing in the world, the safety of our communities, the quality of our healthcare, and unleashing our potential. For these reasons and for those who gave us this privilege I hope we can all find the time.
Jason Smith represents Missouri’s 8th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. Contact him at 573-335-0101 or visit https://jasonsmith.house.gov