Why your Vote Matters
In today's day and age, the majority of American citizens 18 and over are entitled to vote in federal and state elections. However, this was not always an available right for all Americans. When the United States Constitution was originally written, they did not specifically state who could or couldn't vote. It only established how the new country would vote.
According to Article 1 of the Constitution, members of the Senate and House of Representatives would both be elected directly by the popular vote. However, the president would be elected not by direct vote, but by the Electoral College. The Electoral College assigns a number of representative votes per state based on the state's own population. This indirect election method was created as a sort of balance between the popular vote and using a state's representative in Congress to elect a president.
Since the Constitution did not specify on who could vote, it was up to the states in the 1800s to decide. Usually, only land owning white men were eligible to vote, while white women, black people, and other disadvantaged groups during those times were prohibited from voting.
Although this is no longer the case and pretty much any American citizen can vote, it wasn't until 1869 that the 15th Amendment was passed and allowed black men to vote. Even though it was now basically allowed, black men still faced hurdles that were meant to discourage them from exercising their new given right to vote.
This continued until 1964 when the 34th Amendment was passed which eliminated the poll tax and the Voting Right Act of 1965 which ended the Jim Crow Laws. Known as laws that were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education, and other opportunities.
Then, women were finally given their right to vote in 1920, when the long efforts of the women's suffrage movement created the 19th amendment.
You may be thinking, well this was hundreds of years ago what do I care? Although you may not have lived through those times, it is important to understand that you have the privilege to make an impact on your own country. There are still countries that till this day don't allow women to vote or their own citizens.
On the other hand, there are countries who are just barely starting to grant voting rights to their citizens. We are almost into the year 2021 and voting is still a topic of conflict.
Why your Vote Matters
If you think that 1 vote in a mass of millions won't make much of a difference, take a look at some of the closest elections in U.S. history, like the most recent one for example.
During the 2016 presidential election, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by securing a close Electoral College win. Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly three million votes, but the concentration of Trump voters in key "swing" states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan helped seal the deal and gather enough electoral votes for Trump to win the presidential election.
Although your vote may not directly elect the president, if your vote joins others in your voting district or county, your vote without a doubt matters when it comes to electoral results. Some states have a winner takes all system where the popular vote winner gets the state's electoral votes.
You also have the local and state elections to consider. While the presidential or other national elections usually get a significant voter turnout, local elections are typically decided by a much smaller group of voters.
How you Can Stay Involved
Even if you're not 18 yet or haven't obtained American citizenship, you can still participate in the election process. You may not be able to walk into a voting booth and cast your vote, but there are things you can do to get involved and stay informed meanwhile.
- Read up on political issues, both local and national. Figure out where you stand within these issues.
- Talk to people about it. Even if you can't vote, you can still voice your opinion and discuss it with others.
- If you support a particular candidate, you can work on their campaign as a volunteer. As a volunteer you'll be doing things like working the phone banks, doing door-to-door outreach, writing postcards, or working directly at the campaign headquarters.
Being a part of and participating in the presidential elections is one of the most important rights that Americans have. Many people around the world do not have this same freedom much like Americans didn't centuries ago. No matter what you believe or who you support, you should always cast your vote and exercise your rights.