What’s a Vote Worth?
What is a vote, really? For an American, a vote is a right that is abused and neglected by a society that largely does not use the right to its full capacity, or they entirely avoid the opportunity to use the vote.
In Myanmar, however, a vote is a glimmer of hope and a right that is not only embraced and exercised but is fought for. For those people, a vote made history.
Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965 that “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.”
It is amazing to see how in about 50 years we have gone from people fighting for the right to vote in the 20th century, to just over half the population of the U.S. voting in the 2012 presidential elections, according to the U.S. Census. All this while on the other side of the world millions of people have not enjoyed this same freedom from oppression.
Last month, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, held its first national vote since “a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011,” according to BBC. This vote ended nearly 50 years of military rule in the country.
CNN reported that on the morning of the vote, lines had begun to form in the early hours of the day and by 5:30 a.m., some lines outside of polling stations had already stretched for blocks.
The Economist reported that voters waited in “the pre-dawn dark, the blazing midday sun and afternoon rainstorms” just to be able to cast a vote in this historic election.
In the end, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory and will control the country’s next parliament as well as have the ability to choose the next president, according to BBC.
“This is the only way to change things,” Hlaing Myint, a sales manager, said after waiting five hours to cast his vote, according to CNN.
Looking at this historic election only causes me frustration when comparing this election to our own. In elections held in Lynchburg in November, only about 10 percent of voters came out to cast a ballot. While this was no presidential election, the sight is still daunting.
In the 2014 congressional elections, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only 41.9 percent of the citizen population voted. This percentage has been steadily decreasing from the 51.9 percent that voted in 1982. This information also depicts only 16.2 percent of the votes coming from voters ages 18-34.
In the 2012 presidential election, only 58.2 percent of the eligible population turned out to vote, according to the Huffington Post. This number was also lower than previous presidential election years.
I do not know about you, but I have never seen people waiting at the crack of dawn to vote in an American election or dredging through rainstorms just to cast a ballot. What is it that makes this right so freely given to us less valuable than the same right given to people in another part of the world?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a vote is “the official choice that you make in an election, meeting, etc.”
A longer definition from Merriam-Webster reads: “a usually formal expression of opinion or will in response to a proposed decision; one given as an indication of approval or disapproval of a proposal, motion, or candidate for office.”
A vote is your chance to tell the world what you are thinking and to share your opinions. Yes, Facebook lets you do that, and so does Twitter, but a vote is your opportunity to become a part the change, not just talk about it.
In 1920, women were given the right to vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 no longer allowed a male citizen to be prohibited the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude,” according to history.com.
What would the pioneers of these movements, fights not easily won in our history, think of less than 50 percent of people participating in elections that mold our country’s future? We honor our history by voting for a better future.
Casting a ballot to elect government officials is one of the tools we have to keep governments accountable. If we do not like a politician, we can vote for his or her opposition to prevent them from entering office. By exercising this right we are telling the government what we care about and what change we would like to see, just as Myanmar did in November.
What is a vote? A vote is change.