The U.S. Embassy Blog
Make Your Voice Heard - Vote!
October 12, 2012
Over the next few weeks, Americans and Montenegrins will both head to the voting booths for important elections. On October 14, Montenegrins will vote to select their government and on November 6, Americans will choose their President for the next four years.
These elections are significant because the leaders that are chosen will make critical decisions about the future of these two countries. But more important than the selection we make, voters will be exercising an important democratic right. It is easy to take the right to vote for granted. But we should not forget how fortunate we are to have this right. According to the NGO Freedom House, of the 195 countries in the world, only 116 are electoral democracies, or roughly 60 percent. As recently as 1989, that number was only 41 percent. We are fortunate that we live in countries where we have the right to select our own leaders.
Gaining the right to vote and becoming a democracy is a struggle for most countries. Beginning with our separation from Great Britain, Americans have mobilized, petitioned, marched and even given their lives so that American citizens can have the right and privilege to vote. When I cast my vote, I am thankful that they gave so much so that I can exercise my right.
And not only are we fortunate that our countries hold elections, but also that we all have the right to vote. In the United States, not all Americans were always allowed to vote. African-American men were not given the right to vote until 1870, when the 15th Amendment to our constitution was adopted five years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Women, however, did not receive the right to participate in elections until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed. Native Americans were given the right to vote in 1924. In 1971, with the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, the national voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Each of these steps that spread the right to vote took years of struggle, and even the violent conflict of the Civil War, to achieve. In the United States, we honor those who struggled to gain the right to vote by exercising our right to vote.
Despite the significance of elections, in many western democracies voter participation is low. In the United States, voter participation in Presidential elections has hovered between 50 and 60 percent over the last several decades.
There are many reason people give for not voting. Some choose not to vote because they do not like any of the candidates and some because they believe their vote will not make a difference. But it would be a mistake not to vote because you think your vote does not count. Even in a country as large as the United States, with over 210 million eligible voters, the 2000 Presidential election was decided by as few as 600 votes in the state of Florida. Many state and local elections have been decided by much smaller margins.
Those who choose not to vote are also making a decision. They are deciding to let others choose for them who will lead the country and make important decisions about their country and their lives. Voting is the single most effective way to make your voice heard. If you support a political leader’s ideas, values, or performance, or disagree with another’s, you can make your views count in the voting booth. But exercising the right to vote also comes with a responsibility to make an informed decision. Before voting, we should all take the time to research the candidates and parties and their positions on issues of importance to us and their plans for the future.
Elections are decided by those who participate. Make sure your voice is heard.
By Deputy Chief of Mission Douglas Jones