Recently, I had to re-register as a voter in New York state so that I would be eligible to vote in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Doing this was somewhat bothersome but extremely important to both my husband and myself. We qualify for absentee ballots, which make our lives easier, of course. But I must admit we would travel for the chance to vote.
For us, voting, as well as paying taxes, is an important element of democracy. It is not always easy, but it is enshrined in our system as a cherished right and responsibility.
When we first arrived in Canada in 1970, we could not vote here. We paid taxes and found it distinctly burdensome – it went against the grain of “no taxation without representation” – but we feared losing our American citizenship, as the U.S. State Department was known to cancel passports of citizens who pledged allegiance to foreign governments. So, we waited. Then Quebec politics overcame our caution. Referendums necessitated citizen responses in the form of voting. As we proudly became Canadian citizens, our worlds amalgamated. We were now settled, paying taxes in two countries and voting in both.
Separately, I wish I could vote in the third country where government means so much to me – but I doubt I could afford to pay taxes there, too (although I am intrigued by the notion of becoming Israeli so that I don’t have to celebrate the second day of yom tov). Just imagine how different our relations would be if North Americans would be able to vote in Israeli elections! But caveat emptor, you have to pay taxes, too.
My main point, though, is about the responsibility of voting. I just don’t get why so many people don’t vote. Perhaps they don’t understand the significance. This is not simply a permission or a privilege, it is an awesome responsibility. Democracy doesn’t work unless we exercise the right to vote. More than any other form of representation, it is the vote that gives voice to our values and needs. Without the vote, we have no representation in government. No tweet or Facebook post indicates our judgment or directs our representatives. And if they displease us, in defined systems, in demarcated time, we get to limit or replace them via the vote.
It’s quite literally use it or lose it. One must use their democratic rights or lose the power granted them in the voting scheme. At some point, demagoguery will conquer the system as the freedom to debate, choose and vote will be absorbed into waves of Shark Tank-style double-dealing.
My first voting experience was for John F. Kennedy. The excitement of voting for him cannot be countered or limited by discussions of his competence. He was our president and my generation was overwhelmed. Voting was our political means of representation. We later learned of other mechanisms, as some of us evaded the draft, some marched against Vietnam, and many died. But we understood that using the vote to elect our own, as well as to register displeasure was operational. It was the democratic way. It was our way.
But now, in the current political climate, in practically all the countries I read about, democratic voting seems to be feeble and unproductive. Strange leaders gain popularity with no experience, or they have so many years in service that one wonders whether they have shifted to dictatorships. In so many places, voter registration is way down as citizens do not see any benefit in voting. They long for leaders who lead and dread the current state of affairs, but find no place of influence.
I believe in the power of the vote, but we need brave, truthful, trustworthy, honourable people to step forward. That is a tall order. It is difficult to find someone to vote for. In some places, the candidates are bullies or liars. Aggressors have taken over the scene of public discourse. It is now hard work to untangle their words, to measure their action. But that is the responsibility of the voter. It was never more important than now. Read, think, decipher, decide and then vote.