Voting is About More than Standing

I whole-heartedly disagree with Judith Shklar’s opinion that the ability to vote matters more than the physical act of voting. Voting is worthless unless you actually vote.

Some will say that one individual’s vote is not going to affect an election. Few can argue against that logic. The current U. S. population is over three hundred one million, and admittedly if one person decided to stay home on Election Day, it is hardly going to change the election results. However if an entire demographic chooses to stay home on election day or even does not come out it full force, it can make a difference.

For instance polling information on the 2008 presidential election suggests that “had Blacks and Hispanics voted Democratic in 2008 at the rates they had in 2004, McCain would have won.” It did not matter that people of all races have the ability to vote, it mattered that people of all races decided to exercise that right. Additionally, election results suggest that Obama gained votes not merely by gaining a larger percentage of minority votes, but also by bringing new voters into the electorate. The fact that more people decided to get off of their couches and vote made a difference. People can make a difference.

Listen to one of the best presidents ever at 1:46 (If you never watched the West Wing you are missing out, one of the greatest shows of all time!)

I am drawing my conclusions about Shklar’s opinions on voting in part from the quote that “when women finally went to the polls, it turned out to be the biggest non-event in our electoral history” (Shklar p. 60). Shklar states that gaining the right to vote only removed the stigma of not being full citizens. What good is a right if you have no intention of using it? If all women decided not to vote, what incentive would their representatives have to look after their interests?

I extrapolate from Shklar’s opinions about women gaining the right to vote and estimate that she does not consider when non-property owning males and those of other races gained the right to mark big changes in our electoral history either. After minorities gain the right to vote, they gain other rights as well. Would the Civil Rights Act of 1964 really been passed if African Americans were not voting? Would the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission been created if women and minorities were not voting, but had the option of voting? I seriously doubt it.

People have been force-fed, beaten and killed to gain the right to vote. I doubt any of those individuals would say that they were willing to do those things only because they felt bad that they were not being considered full citizens. People have died for the right to vote because they wanted to use their rights as full citizens. Voting is about more than simply having standing . It is about having the ability to have a say in government as all citizens should.

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14 Responses to Voting is About More than Standing

  1. arlaurin says:

    I also agree that what counts is actually going to the polls and voting. In addition to the last election, Clinton was also able to win with the African American votes.

    I have never seen the movie above with the force feeding but it is really sad. Maybe I live under a rock, but i never knew things like that were done. It really puts Shklar’s thoughts to shame. Those treated like slaves without a vote went through so much to ACTUALLY go and vote and that should not be forgotten.

  2. Justin says:

    The only problem (and a MAJOR problem, at that) is that even though people have the right to vote, and all 18+ year-olds are fully enfranchised members of society, they do not choose to vote. Only 37.8 percent of the voting age population voted in 2010 ( So, if no one turns out despite having the ability, I don’t necessarily blame Shklar for denouncing participatory democracy. The fact of the matter is, the majority of American citizens are politically ignorant, and may not even cast educated votes that represent their ideals and desires.

    Last semester, I took a class with Professor Ted Brader called “Are American’s Good Citizens?”, where I learned that generally, Americans are not good citizens. This conclusion was reached largely in part due to the reading of Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, where he surveyed the decline in social capital. Putnam defined social capital as the type of active civic engagement that a strong democracy requires from its citizens. In addition to voting, working with political parties, attending town meetings, protesting and more (traditional political participation), Putnam includes membership in organizations (e.g., church, mass-membership organizations) and more as part of social capital. He concludes that not only are people participating in politics more, but all aspects of social capital are on the decline. To give an example, Putnam gets the title of his book from the fact that, although the number of people who bowl has increased in the past few decades, the number of people who bowl in leagues has declined. When people bowl alone rather than in groups, they do not participate in social interaction and civic discussions that occur when bowling in groups. The lack of membership in social organizations and the decrease in political participation, he argues, is problematic for democracy.

    Perhaps, if citizens don’t act as citizens and use their rights as enfranchised members of this country, something like the act of voting isn’t actually as important as being able to vote. Like we discussed in class, people only value what is exclusive, and thus want to be able to vote simply because others cannot. Yet, as an enfranchised citizen (as opposed to a right-less slave), one is awarded the luxury to not vote, or not act as a good citizen.

    Both Shklar and Putnam also seem to have a classic liberal viewpoint. Shklar is concerned more with standing than participation, while Putnam notes that individuals are declining to participate and even socialize, and seem to be living a more private lifestyle. Are these viewpoints problematic for democracy? Is denouncing participation a cause or an effect of the decline of social capital? Is Shklar wrong to view citizenship as standing and not participation?

  3. Andrew Mack says:

    Although I agree with the fact that those who have the right to vote should exercise their right, I do not disagree with Shklar’s assertion that the ability to vote matters more than actually voting. Most people just want to be included and recognized as part of something that is bigger than themselves. Once they have the right, as we discussed in class, they seem to always take it for granted. In a perfect world, everyone who had the right to vote would do so. However, it seems like a great deal of people are content with just having the right. That’s what I think Shklar is trying to say.

  4. Amanda Gayer says:

    I think your argument that voting matters more than just having voting rights relates back to the debate between classic liberals and civic republicans. You have taken a civic republican stance by placing value on contributing to politics and having a participatory government. Others would argue that our nation is designed so that individuals can pursue their own personal interests without being burdened by politics if they don’t want to be. Personally, i think it is a matter of personal preference. If you want a say in what happens in the world around you, then go out and vote. If you don’t care, that’s okay, but don’t complain about policies if you made no effort to take action and impact them. To me, citizenship and voting rights are all about choice, freedom, and the ability to affect the world around you if you want to.

  5. mkay2209 says:

    I agree with Andrew that people do want to be included in something larger than themselves, and with that, people do take for granted the rights they gain with membership. But I believe that as a citizen of the US, people should participate in voting, not only because they have the right, but also because as a whole, their vote counts. If no one votes, there would be no elections, which in turn would make our government undemocratic. I agree completely with megsavel that voting is more than giving standing. People have fought and died for the right to vote, so we need to respect what they have done for us to gain that right, and put forth that action. It bothers me as a citizen of the US, and as a political science major, when people don’t vote, or if they do, vote uneducated, because those decisions affect our country.

    To address Justin’s question whether or not declining participation is problematic for democracy, I think it definitely is. Our government is based off the people, but if the people don’t turn out to elect representatives and the president, then like I said before, our government turns undemocratic. This is what the founding fathers fought for, and we need to uphold that.

  6. brandoneinstein says:

    I also agree with the author’s point that it is not the ability to vote, but the act of vote that is necessary for good citizenry. However, I think to say that voter turnout is becoming more of a problem is a flawed argument. Statistics show that only 56.8% of the population participated in the 2008 Presidential election. This is the highest turnout since 1968’s presidential election in which 60.8% of the nation partook in the election. One could claim that this was a significant election year in that it was the first presidential election post civil war movement. This idea leads into a perfect segue for my next point.

    It is absolutely crucial examine WHO is going to the polls, not necessarily how many people are voting. Here are some very interesting facts regarding the 2008 presidential election:
    – Black women turned out at a higher rate than any other racial, ethnic, and gender group.
    – The number of eligible Hispanic voters has soared by more than 21 percent since 2004.
    – The gap between white and black turnout was less than one percentage point.
    – Hispanic and Asian voters made up 22 percent of the voters, compared with about 12 percent in 1988.

    Sam Roberts of the New York Times best explains this phenomenon: “Despite widespread predictions of record voter turnout last November, the overall rate was virtually the same as in 2004. But the composition of the electorate changed. The turnout among eligible whites declined slightly, by 1.1 percent, but rose by 4.9 percent among blacks.”

    In other words, today’s voter turnout rates are commonly are criticized because of their numerical totals. Most fail to recognize these underlying shifts in turnouts by race. Obviously Barack Obama’s presidential run had much to do with the spike in minority voters. However, the increase in Hispanic voters would prove that more Hispanics are becoming citizens, and not necessarily because Obama is a minority himself. In sum, maybe the true problem rests in the availability of favorable candidates. Or, in fact, we are moving father and father away from the days when prejudice and racism were unfortunate everyday realities. Nonetheless, the ability to vote used to be important simply because it was a true measurement of one’s social status. Today, however, it is the act of voting that exists as a requisite for good citizenry.


  7. miswain says:

    First of all, I chose this post to read , think about, and reply to partially due to the West Wing reference. It’s an incredible show and I’m completely certain that if our leaders shared the values that Jed Bartlet embodied, this country would be a better place. Back on topic now…..I was glad to see a post that went against Shklar. While she has some good ideas, it’s important to not let one person define citizenship for us, and I feel kind of Shklar’d out after reading her for two classes in a row. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. While Shklar’s ideas are certainly important, the demographics of Obama’s 2008 coalition that you brought up were a smart way to refute her very impassioned but one-sided argument. In addition to that, Democratic strategists are worried that if these minorities don’t show up next year, it will hurt as much as it helped in 2008 – the same effect in a different direction.

    Your argument, however, brought up the memory from a mental tug-of-war that I had today regarding the value of voting. I overheard somebody say that they support Rep. Bachmann for the Republican nomination for President. For those not keeping up with the polls, she fanned out about a month ago and really doesn’t have a chance anymore. It got me thinking: It seems as though the trend in the past couple of weeks is to support Mitt Romney, who is making the case that his nomination is inevitable; partially because he polls well against Obama. While more people are impassioned by fire-breathers like Bachmann, it makes sense to get behind the guy who has the best chance and expedite his nomination.

    However, when does it become throwing away your vote? I came to the conclusion that it makes much more sense to vote for the person who shares your philosophy, for the person you TRUST, the person who would give you the most peace of mind. In that sense, to vote for that ideal candidate is to make a statement: Screw what the establishment wants, I’m exercising my rights of American citizenship in the most pure form. Here, the concept “throwing your vote away” falls within the realm of Shklar’s idea of simply having the right to vote.

  8. Although it is more important to actually exercise the right to vote, having the ability to vote alone also makes a significant difference in a society. As long as minorities, teenagers, and other factions that relatively vote less, at least have the ability to vote, it forces politicians to take measures that would make them happy and support them. Obviously politicians are more inclined to look out for factions that are more likely to vote, but they must also place value on all citizens that can place a vote in their election.

    There are several examples of politicians who declined to place value on citizens that rarely vote and it resulted in them losing their elections. One example is BIll Clinton and George Bush in the 1992 presidential election. Clinton’s campaign placed a lot of attention on the youth, including making now famous appearances on MTV. Bush declined to make such appearances and did very little to gain votes from the 18-25 crowd. Clinton ended up getting the vast majority of votes from 18-25 population and winning the election. Many political analysts believed that Clinton’s appeal to the younger voters was a deciding factor in his win.

  9. zrickerm says:

    I think you makes an interesting argument. Voting as an individual makes such a small difference in the grand scheme of things but as a collective action it does make a difference. The OP also made an interesting point by drawing on morality to justify the individuals duty to vote. Since people have suffered and even died in the course for trying to gain suffrage, it leaves us with an obligation to exercise the right that they sacrificed so much to get for us. However I do disagree with the point that the poster made in the respect that voting is more of a matter of actual voting than social standing. Since the single vote of an individual means nothing alone, it doesn’t make sense that someone would sacrifice so much in order to get something that has so little practical value. Therefor it would make more sense that the people who fought for the right to vote were not fighting for the practical right to vote but rather the recognition as full citizens.

  10. Robert Tepper says:

    This is a great post and I definitely agree that the right to vote doesn’t matter at all unless you actually get out and vote. As compared to the rest of the world, the United States has one of the worst average voter turnouts. Though some political scientists blame this on the fact that we have too many elections or that people are not informed enough on the candidates and issues, I believe the main cause of this is that people feel that their vote doesn’t matter or that the government “doesn’t care about them” (a popular cry in our generation). Well, maybe if more 18 year olds went out and voted, candidates would pay more attention to the issues that they care most about. How come candidates care so much about the elderly? Because they vote. Always. If you want to be heard, you need to vote. Otherwise no one cares.

  11. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I also disagree that Shklar’s argument that the value of voting lays in the ability to be able to vote. There is no point, I believe, in being able to vote if you don’t actually follow through and put that right to action. Our ancestors died in battle fighting to give us the privilege and the right to be able to vote, so voting is honoring them risking their lives. There is no point in having the right to vote if you are not going to put it to use. If your excuse for not voting is that you feel that it won’t make a difference in the vote… think about what if the rest of society felt the same way and no one ever voted. By not voting because you don’t feel that it will make a difference you are relying on other people to make a difference in society. You have the ability to make a change and have your voice heard…. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?

  12. eakunne5 says:

    While i do feel that people should exercise their right to vote, i feel that shklar opinion on voting with has gotten misunderstood criticism. Having the ability to vote is the measure for ctitizenship, her point is not about if u vote or not in which it make one a good citizen,its about having that choice to have your opinion be counted or not. She isnt addressing what makes someone a better citizen than another based on voting. She is saying that people should all be able to vote if they choose too, but that some people truly can’t.

  13. brbarlog says:

    I think this post does a good job in underlying a key part, in my opinion, of effective American Democracy: the right to vote, more importantly, the act of voting. It has been said by an individual that “Bad public officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” Indeed, this quote illustrates the need for all citizens of the country to effectively engage in the political process. Likewise, I think that voting, in it of itself, is paramount to adequate standing. There have been comments in the aforementioned sections that state that simply having a “choice” is what is important. I disagree. If citizens in a democracy are content with merely a “choice” to vote, I think it is a contradictory to ideals, such as Douglas, who come from horrific backgrounds as slaves.
    Most of all, I would advocate that the public is responsible to become increasingly educated about candidates and issues. Simple ignorance, I believe, is not a warranted excuse, given today’s augmented technology and social media. Shklar’s notion of only “choice” seems archaic, and I do not agree.

    By the way, the West Wing is a great show! I have seen every episode! A must-watch series!

  14. eskylise says:

    There are few electoral exceptions where 537 or so votes decided the outcome of the election. It is also true that the higher contested the election, the closer the polling results tend to be. That being said, I do not believe that it is necessary or even desirable for every citizen to get out and vote. Phillip Converse, in The American Voter, illustrates a concerning issue, where the majority of U.S. voters have very little political knowledge of the workings of the ideologies functioning under the politics of their government as well as their politicians. In fact, only about 2% of the public has this ‘ideological understanding’, followed by about 12% ‘near ideologues’. The rest of the public would appear to be relatively ignorant.

    One might suggest that heuristics are enough to guide the actions of the many voters in the polling stations, but when someone is incapable of even telling you the party of the president, I am not sure that I am comfortable with them exercising their ‘rights’ come election day. Fortunately, it would appear that many of these ideologically ignorant voters tend to cancel each other out, though if the margin is as small as 537 ballots, we may end up getting stuck with a Bush for 8 years.

    Second, though Robert Putnam has a fascinating thesis, his work fails to consider the role that new forms of technology and social media play in the realm of social capital. So many of us may not belong to bowling leagues—certainly fewer of our generation than our grandparents. So what? Most of our grandparents do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts either. Though this form of social capital is of a different variety, who is to say that networking with someone while playing World of Warcraft, or scrabble on Facebook is any less ‘real’ than meeting in a bowling alley. Putnam considers at length social capital that may be traced, such as parent teacher conferences; what about casually meeting a friend at a bar? Though Putnam has a great idea here, it is not clear that he considers his thesis in the context of the quickly evolving technological world.

    To the point, though voting is an important right for citizens in a democracy, it is not altogether clear that everyone should in fact exercise this right. If they do, it may be prudent to pick up a newspaper before heading off to the polling stations.

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