Yes, Voting Is Important —And Here's Why, Exactly

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Why Is Voting Important? Because Our Democracy In Trouble
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“Voting” is not a sexy term. To some, it might feel boring, nagging, and even outdated.

Get-out-the-vote messaging is easily tuned out, particularly in an age of vibrant social media, Netflix binge-watching and quarantine cocktail hours.

Plus, with so many huge problems in the world— from income inequality to health care crises to climate change dystopia — a civic call that we each cast a single vote can seem almost quaint.

After all, the system is rigged against so many people. One vote hardly makes a difference, right?

Wrong.

So, why is voting important?

Whatever you care about in your life right now — be it COVID-19, immigration reform, LGBTQ+ rights, or police violence — it must ultimately be addressed at the polls.

Protests aside, there is no other way to implement real change except by taking back our own government at the ballot box.

RELATED: 17 Powerful Quotes About The 2020 Presidential Election To Remind You Why Your Vote Matters

If the American electoral process breaks down in November, the rest of those issues will be all but lost.

What about the many pressing everyday issues we are all wrestling with?

Many of us believe we can’t afford the time and resources it takes to fill out the forms, collect the underlying paperwork, and perhaps even wait in coronavirus-infected queues to cast a vote that won’t make a difference anyway.

Wrong again.

We are in a crisis of civic literacy and engagement in America. We can't afford not to vote.

One survey found that only one-quarter of Americans surveyed can name all three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and executive. Over a third cannot name a single right guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Nearly 10% of recent college graduates polled in 2016 believed that Judge Judy is on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, only around half of eligible voters participate in American elections.

To be sure, government-backed efforts to suppress the vote are real and longstanding in U.S. politics.

But most people stay home from the polls due to cynicism and apathy — not lack of access.

RELATED: 4 Shameful Ways The Voting System Suppresses Black And Latino Voters

Which means that even under our broken system, if more people cared about voting, more people in office would be forced to care about the needs of individual voters.

If you’re not convinced yet that you should register to vote (and then literally vote), consider this hypothetical situation:

(I can’t help it, I’m a law professor.)

Imagine that on the ballot in November are not just the two competing candidates for the presidency, the various candidates for U.S. Congress, and all the state and local candidates for office.

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Those choices are important, of course, but they really boil down to hiring decisions. These days, candidates are engaging in job interviews on the airwaves due to COVID (except for Donald Trump), and some people are listening more than others.

But imagine, too, that also on the ballot is a referendum on the form of national government itself.

Imagine that the options for American government, come November, were these:

  • On one hand is the democratic republic as originally ratified under the U.S. Constitution in 1788 and amended twenty-seven times.
  • On the other is a government consisting of three branches: administrative, legislative, and judicial. However, unlike our current system, the branches are not independent of each other in this hypothetical situation.

In this hypothetical situation, the country’s leader — let’s still call him the president — must work through these institutions, which can delay or resist his orders. But the constitution identifies him as the “eternal president.”

Unlike under our current system, his actions are not subject to judicial review, and the public doesn’t get much information about what the government is up to — including whether it is adhering to the rule of law in the first place.

Although the legislature is elected, the slate of candidates is compiled and approved by the political party in power. There is seldom more than one candidate on the ballot, and the electoral process itself is totally controlled by the party.

Scary, right?

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If this hypothetical sounds a bit like the deteriorating federal government under Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate, you are onto something.

In real-life America today, Republicans in Congress have all but abdicated that body’s oversight prerogative, choosing party loyalty over anything else — which now translates into abject loyalty to Donald Trump.

The courts cannot oversee criminal wrongdoing by the president because the president’s Department of Justice won’t let prosecutors bring such cases. And the White House is squelching internal dissent and public transparency across-the-board.

It turns out that option two is also a description of an actual constitutional democracy that exists today, at least on paper: the government of North Korea under Kim Jong-un.

In practice, of course, it’s an authoritarian dictatorship — not anything approaching a real democracy. And America today is a far cry from North Korea, to be sure.

But democracy is fragile, even in the United States. We the People must be vigilant about keeping it.

So, if the ballot had U.S. democracy versus authoritarianism as an actual choice for Americans in November, would you fight for your right to vote for democracy?

If the answer is yes, then get going with voting. Nothing — save life or death — is more important right now.

To be sure, our real-life scenario in America is not as drastic as the North Korean one, but could become just as bad if we continue to let the Executive branch (a.k.a. the president) hold so much unilateral power. 

While it may seem like nothing changes, like voting doesn't matter, we inch closer and closer to a catastrophic collapse of our form of government. And, while our system isn't perfect, it does still allow us all a voice in how our country is run.

But if we give up on voting, if we don't mobilize voters this election, that may not always be a guarantee

RELATED: Why It's More Important Than Ever To Stop Being Silent & Use Your Voice

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Kim Wehle is a professor of law and scholar at the University of Baltimore School of Law, a CBS News legal analyst, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author of the books, What You Need to Know About Voting—and Why and How to Read the Constitution — and Why. She has four daughters. Follow her on Twitter at @kimwehle.