Sunday, November 4, 2007

To Vote or Not to Vote?

A piece by me on the importance of exercising the right to vote as Election Day in the US nears appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today:

Do not waste right that I as an immigrant have yet to gain
Deepak Seth Guest essayist

(November 4, 2007) — Election Day is poignant for me, for I'm not yet a U.S. citizen and therefore am barred from voting. I must remain a "permanent resident" for the mandated number of years before I'm granted citizenship, with its many privileges, mainly the right to vote.

Making it doubly painful is the fact that I hail from India — the world's largest democracy, though much younger than the U.S. democracy. India's history of peaceful transition through the electoral process gives me a strong appreciation of the power of the vote and the changes it can bring about in civil society. This is in marked contrast to the violent regime changes that plague many countries.

And so, denied for now the right to vote in America, I am surprised by the increasing number of Americans who could but don't vote. The reasons are many, but two of the most common are:

  • Our votes do not count; Big Business, lobbyists and the like heavily influence election results.
  • Elections don't make any difference. No matter who wins, policies, directions stay pretty much the same.
However, in many cases, the truth is that people are so busy that they just don't want to take the time to exercise their franchise. It is indeed a very sorry state of affairs.

What makes it more pitiable is that in the recent years, the United States has taken a leading role in spreading freedom — democracy — to various parts of the globe. Iraq and Afghanistan are cases to point. Meanwhile, in the United States itself, people shy away from exercising that same freedom that was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Politicians themselves have contributed to voter apathy. Campaigning has become very vitriolic and more a fight than an earnest debate. As in any fight, many people just choose to stay away rather than sully themselves in what they perceive to be muck. Some politicians also prefer to deal with the "moneybags" rather than the "huddled masses." But what one needs to remember is that the vote creates the politician and not vice versa. The vote is the most powerful weapon in a democratic society, and one should not be wary of wielding it.

Come Election Day, people should proudly wear their "I have voted" stickers. It is for defending and extending this right to vote that countless Americans have died. As for me, I count the days till I can join this great continuing, evolving endeavor: American democracy.

Seth, of Brighton, is on the Board of Contributors.

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