All Votes Matter

How choosing not to vote maintains the status quo.

Posted Oct 31, 2020

Tai's Captures from Unsplash
Source: Tai's Captures from Unsplash

By Naadira C. Upshaw, Psy.D. and Douglas E. Lewis, Jr., Psy.D. on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates

Voting is our most basic, yet powerful, method of exercising our civic duty. Its importance is underscored by multiple voting equality movements that have worked diligently to ensure that every American citizen has access to this right. Particularly, leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly to promote changes in the law so that these rights might be actualized for everyone.

However, in recent history, members of various minority groups have expressed their disdain and disillusionment with the American voting system. Many argue that “nothing changes whoever is in office;” and therefore, they choose to disengage from the political process. America’s dark history concerning voting and other rights, coupled with modern-day voter suppression, contribute to their sentiments. In fact, some political groups have become creative in their tactics of voter suppression. For example, in 2013, the United States (US) Supreme Court “struck down” section five of the Voting Rights Act, which required localities with a significant history of voter discrimination to seek prior approval for any new voting practices or procedures. In other words, there was no longer a requirement for federal oversight, which gave way to current tactics of voter suppression. Methods used today include providing only one ballot box within a county, matching signatures on ballots, creating stricter voter identification regulations, and requiring outstanding fines or fees be paid before granting the right to vote. Considering such practices, we understand how some groups may have little faith in the process.

Still, we must acknowledge that certain politicians and political organizations are willing to infringe upon our most basic of rights, precisely because they recognize the longstanding and far-reaching impact of voting.   

Here are just four ways in which your vote matters:

1. State Attorney Generals. In recent months, we’ve observed public outcry, seemingly caused by a state attorney general’s unresponsiveness to the killings of unarmed Black men and women. State Attorney Generals have the overarching power to choose to reimagine how they prosecute individuals, in addition to their ability to charge police officers who have engaged in wrongdoing. We choose our State Attorney Generals by voting.     

2. State Budgets. Often cities or local governments list proposals about the allocation (i.e., use) of state taxpayer funds on voter ballots, providing citizens the opportunity to decide how certain funds are used. Citizens also elect governors and other local or district representatives who determine how taxpayer funds are spent. Essentially, we have a voice concerning more parks in our communities, better roads, new businesses, improved water quality, or increased school resources. We choose our governors and other local and district representatives by voting.   

3. Congressional Representatives. It is well known that members of Congress have the power, collectively, to offer financial support and other forms of relief to American citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of American citizens, particularly members of the Black American and Latinx communities. The death toll has exceeded 230,000 Americans. What’s more, in July, it was reported that over 30 million Americans were unemployed. People continue to suffer with no economic relief in sight. We choose our congressional representatives by voting.

4. Supreme Court. Legal issues are argued before the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. They’ve made decisions that are life-changing regarding topics such as abortion, health care, workplace discrimination, immigration, integration of school systems, gay marriage, and voters’ rights. Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the president and later confirmed by the US Senate. We choose our president and our senators by voting. 

The least of our civic duties is voting in every election, as many of us should answer the call to run for office or take on other leadership roles to advance our communities. Nonetheless, we know that if everyone simply voted, we could ensure that there are diverse perspectives and voices heard. On the contrary, if we choose not to vote, we let other people decide the fate of our communities.