This week, with many other registered voters in Arizona, I received my early mail-in ballot. The first section on the ballot is for the presidential election. I looked at the names in extreme panic because I still don’t know who the best fit for the country is. I sat in my kitchen for ten minutes contemplating who to vote for, and then it hit me: how much does my vote really matter? I figured that it doesn’t matter, especially because Arizona is historically a red state, and Trump is going to win by a landslide. However, in this very strange election cycle, Arizona is now up as a swing state. This really brought me back to Judith Shklar’s idea in American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, where she explains the importance of voting. How thousands of people before us fought for the explicit right to vote- yet so many of us refuse to go to the polls or check a box on our ballots.
In her chapter about voting, she says “Others think that voting is a meaningless gesture for the many people who feel that the political system is indifferent to their concerns who can see no point in taking part in a ritual that has no bearing on their lives… For the voters, on the other hand, voting is “an affirmation of belonging” rather than the exercise of a right.” She then adds later in the chapter that “To be refused the right was to be almost a slave, but once one possessed the right, it conferred no other personal advantages. Not the exercise, only the right, signified deeply.” I believe that quote explains how almost every American feels about voting one way or another. Some, like myself, are stuck in the paradox that voting is important, but it may or may not really matter when you look at it as a whole. At the same token, people like to be able to say they voted for the XYZ candidate, and the same candidate won the general election. To be a part of that “community” is special and important to some citizens.
So is it that now that we all have the right to vote, people do it less often? If one party (be it race, gender, social class etc.) didn’t poses the right to vote, would others take it more seriously? To me, the significance of voting isn’t enough. Surely it’s great that all American’s despite their race, gender, social class etc. can exercise the right to vote, but how serious is it if no one votes? According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2012 only 50% of Americans actually vote.
So back to my original dilemma, does my vote really matter? The startling percentage that only half of American’s vote is very unsettling to me. So even though my vote may or may not be a deal breaker in the scheme of things, I do not want to be lumped into the 50% of people that don’t take advantage of their right to vote.