Whether you’ve already gone to the polls, cast your vote through the mail or an emergency ballot, or are planning on going later today before polls close at 8 p.m., exercising your most fundamental American right – to vote – is a responsibility that everyone of voting age should take seriously.
Without getting into specific politics, today’s election is likely to be a landmark moment in our democracy where either a tone is set nationwide to go against the direction we’ve embarked since the 2016 presidential election or where those who have taken power will continue to seize it and control it for the foreseeable future.
Wherever you stand on the scale of satisfaction regarding how things are being handled throughout our government, the fact that you can take a stand is the entire concept of democracy – and it’s thanks to our nation’s veterans that we are provided that opportunity. It is too easy to take for granted our ability to choose those who lead us.
The system is far from perfect – as there are still far too many barriers to voting in far too many places, and gerrymandering exists to a troubling extent across Congressional Districts in many states to a point where it cannot be considered anything but unfair. However, in comparison to nations who truly only have faux elections, our system would be considered a grand improvement.
This does not mean we sit on our historic laurels as a democratic nation. Our voting populace must become more vigilant than ever before to combat unprecedented threats on our democracy. These threats come from direct means, such as voting manipulation and hacking attacks aimed at local municipalities and Secretary of States’ offices, but also indirect means – specifically through false, narrative-based “news” articles that get spread like viruses on social media platforms.
This isn’t conspiracy talk either. It has been demonstrated through a recent study that a significant number of voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 were led away from voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 due to their belief in at least one out of three selected fake news stories. On the conservative side, even if their belief in fake news led just 5 percent of voters who would have likely voted for Clinton towards Trump, such a swing could have played a pivotal role in the outcome.
We find ourselves in a new era of information that our veterans who fought in decades past could have never dreamed of. While they agonized over the time it took for letters to be sent back and forth from loved ones – if they ever got delivered at all – today we can be brought into face-to-face contact at the touch of a screen, from thousands of miles away.
However, this means that we are also faced with more information than ever before. Only diligence and a desire to find out the truth will lead you away from being manipulated for whatever agenda causes someone to publish blatantly false materials during election season. That onus is on individual voters.
As our society develops to this rapid expansion of technological capabilities, so must our democracy develop to what “voting” means, and how precariously our democratic process is actually balanced. There is already ample reason to argue that our elections are not quite the illustrious, infallible process our elected officials wax poetically about during election season. The Electoral College, for example, is a process that many millions of Americans probably do not fully understand, if they’re aware of it at all.
The only way our country will remain truly democratic – and we’re currently listed at #21 out of 167 ranked countries (indicating a “flawed democracy”) on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index,” which ranks things like the functioning of government, the electoral process and the participation of its citizenry – is if we continue to realize that voting rights are not ingrained indefinitely.
Similar to freedom – which any veteran will tell you isn’t truly free – voting rights are privileges that we are wise to not take for granted. More participation means we have a better representative sample of the country and a better chance to continue our nation’s growth in a direction that works best for the most people possible.