As we draw closer to the 2020 elections, I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson, who famously said: “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
In the 2016 national elections, only 58 percent of Americans of voting age turned out for the vote. Our highest voter turnout in this country, from 2008, was only 64 percent. This means that, in a close election, races can be decided by less than a third of eligible voters. Those who show up get to decide. And everyone who shows up can make a difference.
In 2016 and 2018, several races were won by merely thousands of votes. In 2008, in Alaska, the congressional race was decided by one vote out of 10,035. One single vote. And in 1974, a Senate race in New Hampshire was decided by only two votes. Imagine having the right to vote in those elections, but failing to exercise that right. How will your voice be heard if you fail to vote?
America is the greatest country in the world. In spite of our challenges, in spite of our differences, America is a place where anyone of any means can make a life for themselves, accomplish great things, and help determine our future by voting.
The vote is a privilege enshrined in our Constitution, and upheld for more than 200 years. It gives the power of deciding our leadership and major issues to the people. Our founders granted us this right because they knew the alternative was that people who crave power would use it to undermine our democratic principles. And that the system they came from, where people are born into the ruling class, was worse.
As a nation, we have fought to ensure the right to vote, no matter the race or gender. From the Magna Carta, which granted the English the power of self-determination under its monarchy, to our own democratic Constitution and its amendments, we have fought, given our lives, and dedicated our tireless efforts to ensuring that we all have the right to choose our leaders and vote on the issues facing our society.
The very fact that we have the right to disagree, and to air our differences, is an example of how great this country can be. We are free to protest against, to speak to, and engage with our leaders in ways people in other countries simply can’t fathom. And that freedom comes from our very system of government.
Because we live in a democracy, we are guaranteed by our Constitution certain inalienable rights, and one of those is the right to choose our own leaders. Each one of us shares the power to vote in our elections, to choose our leaders from among us, and to make change by casting a single ballot. We all share that power, and bear that responsibility.
For our democracy to thrive, we must all play our part in it. We must educate ourselves on the issues, and examine the candidates for ourselves. But, most importantly, we must vote.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves. And the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
The 2020 election is going to determine the vision we have for our country, perhaps for decades to come. Be a part of the great tradition of American self-determination and exercise your right to vote.
Find me at a ballot box in my native Kentucky.