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The Right to Vote - Do You Also Have a Duty to Vote?

Updated on August 7, 2013
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The right to vote runs deep in the American DNA. It is often referred to as the sacred right to vote. If you are an American citizen the one right you cherish most, or should cherish most, is your right to vote. So basic is this right that most Americans simply take it for granted. It wasn't always that way.

It's often said that there is no explicit right to vote in the United States Constitution.This is nonsense. In five places in the Constitution, the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th, the language is quite clear that there is a right to vote: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . "

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The Women's Suffrage Movement

It seems strange, almost quaint, to think that as of the early part of the last century, women were not given the right to vote. After more than a century of struggle and state by state suffrage, the United States Senate finally approved the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited both state and federal prohibitions against voting based on sex. The vote was 82 percent Republicans in favor and 54 percent Democrat. Republican war on women? The amendment was ratified by the states in 1920. In an era that has seen many women occupy high office launch political campaigns to run for President of the United States, it's hard to believe that less than 100 years ago women could not even cast a ballot, much less run for political office. The Nineteenth Amendment states very succinctly, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." It's interesting to note that the United States Congress thought it more important to ban booze before getting to the question of whether women should vote. The Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) was ratified in 1919.

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Racial Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement

In February 1870, Less than five years after the end of the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution banned racial discrimination in voting. The Fifteenth Amendment reads "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The amendment was plain and simple, but the history of black people's right to vote is anything but. It took years of struggle through the Civil Rights Movement that African Americans were finally granted that to which they were entitled by the Fifteenth Amendment. Among the many barriers thrown up against them, African Americans had to contend with literacy tests, poll taxes and outright intimidation through Jim Crow laws. These things are now relics of the past.

Do you consider it your civic duty as a citizen to vote?

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Is There a Duty To Vote?

The universal right of American citizens to vote is beyond conjecture. We know we have the right, but do we have a duty? Let's be clear about something. There is no legal duty to vote. If you don't vote, nobody's going to call a cop because the cop has no law to enforce. We are not legally required to vote. In the last ten presidential elections an average of only 53 percent of the voting age population turned out to vote. The voting age population, it should be noted, is always somewhat less than actually eligible voters because the statistics include convicted felons, who do not have the right to vote. But the numbers are none the less startling. In a thriving democracy like ours, shouldn't we expect a very large voter turnout, especially when the presidency is at stake? It's clear that many Americans do not consider voting a duty. What are the reasons for this? Perhaps the most important reason is that many eligible voters don't believe that their vote could possibly make a difference. With our electoral college system, we don't actually vote directly for a presidential candidate but for the elector who will actually cast the ballot that elects the candidate.

Is there a moral or civic duty to vote? If you're reading this article you probably think so. Personally, I believe that I have a civic duty to vote, and that's why I never miss an election, primary or general. I don't believe, as a matter of personal integrity, that I can complain about an elected official if I didn't cast a vote for or against the person. I, probably like you, listen to the arguments, read the literature, listen to the candidates and the opinions about them from people I respect. I then make up my mind.

If you know someone who is completely ignorant of the issues and the candidates, would you encourage that person to vote?

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If You Know Nothing About the Candidates or the Issues, Should You Vote?

I will probably receive hate mail from voter participation groups like the League of Women Voters, but I have a controversial thought on this subject. People who know nothing about the candidates or the issues should stay home. We have all seen "Man in the Street" interviews. These have become an genre of entertainment. In the hands of a talented interviewer, a Man on the Street interview can be entertaining, funny or depressing. We learn things like World War II was fought in the Nineteenth Century, Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States, and Sarah Palin was Barack Obama's running mate. The point is, many folks see no reason to keep up with any kind of news, much less concentrate on the issues of a political campaign.

If you're reading this article, you probably are very familiar with the issues and the candidates. Therefore, please vote. think of it as a duty.

But a duty to vote carries with it a duty to be informed, to keep up with the news, and to listen to what candidates have to say.An uninformed voter is simply a tool for those who know how to manipulate media messages.

A vote, boiled down to its essential element, is an opinion. An opinion, if you are a thinking human being, is based on facts and your observation of those facts. So if you think that Bill Clinton is president of the United States, and that he is running for reelection against Richard Nixon in the 2012 election, please do the country a favor: stay home on election day.

Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran

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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great Hub, Rfmoran. I believe that all citizens have a duty to vote and a duty to become educated on the issues and the candidates views on those issues. I am tempted to say that those who are totally ignorant of the issues should not vote. I am stopping short of that but it is great food for thought. In actuality, most people who are ignorant of the issues probably will not vote.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      If your opinion is controversial then so is mine. I believe we have a duty to show up; if we don't, then we have a duty to shut up about issues. I have no patience with loudmouths who can't be bothered to vote in this country, and obviously there are a lot of them. :) Great hub!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Yes it is our duty I believe and everyone should remember that a vote for someone is the same as a vote against someone. It counts.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your comments!

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 4 years ago from Arlington, TX

      If you don't vote then don't complain.

      The Frog

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 4 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Three duties of citizens:

      1. Pay your taxes.

      2. Vote.

      3. ???

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Very good hub! My father always taught me the importance of voting. If you don't vote you can't complain. I've never missed a vote, local or national, in my life. It's one of the most important things you can do as a citizen. Voted up!

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 4 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      A couple more--

      Obey the laws of the community.

      Respect the rights of others.

      [According to Benjamin Franklin.]

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your comments

    • CMerritt profile image

      Chris Merritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

      I think more importantly is that you MUST be informed and able to comprehind common sense. We have WAY too many people who vote for a person, not based on what they can bring to the table, but because they were TOLD how to vote....just my thought,

      Good hub!

      Chris

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      You make a very justifiable point. Not only do we as Americans have a duty to cast our vote, with that comes the responsibility of educating ourselves on the decision we are making.

      Excellent hub. I'm voting up and sharing.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Chris. Yes, thinking helps.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks shiningirisheyes. Yes, educating ourselves is easy, not a cuse for study. Just read the papers, listen to or watch the news.

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 4 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Uninformed voters actually do a disservice by voting based on how attractive someone is or by guessing. Informed voters help their country.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      You got that right Tamara.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      People don't know how valuable the right to vote is until it's taken away from me. That happened to us many years ago in the Philippines, when the President declared marshall law and essentially took over for decades. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks alocsin. You've seen it up front and personal.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      When I think about how much it took for people to get a vote in their own government, I feel bad about not taking advantage of the option to vote. But, it is still an option. In my case, I only vote when I know who I want to vote for. Usually, I don't have any preference for which of the parties/ politicians gets in. The elections and the differences between the parties are not as dramatic here in Canada.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      That's honesty Laura. If you are really unsure, skip it. Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      Bananafanafo 4 years ago

      My thoughts on this topic have changed. I DON'T THINK IT'S A RIGHT for people that don't contribute to the economy in anyway should get a chance to vote on that economy! Then I'm trying to figure out if I want to participate in a CHEAT 2 POWER election process, that's NOT OPEN at all to the VOTER other then casting a vote, then it's all behind doors & machines! I'm past this FEEL GOOD history of voters, I've moved to WHO should participate as to not manipulate "OTHERS/Taxpayers MONEY" Shouldn't that be the taxpayers saying where the money goes? I'd like to see more articles on that subject

    • MrBecher profile image

      MrBecher 4 years ago from CNY

      Good piece. And I agree, citizens of a democracy do have a duty to participate in the decisions of the society they depend on, a.k.a. a duty to vote. However, they are not required to vote, and people can ignore their duty.

      When you've got situations (much like our current one) where masses of uninformed people vote, you essentially have a government making uninformed decisions... which is terrifying. Obviously this is not purely our situation, given that we are a republic, but representatives must do what uninformed voters ask of them.

      Anyway, I think most of us agree with you. And in any case, good work.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, an uninformed end electorate will cast an uninformed vote.

    • profile image

      Sanxuary 3 years ago

      Until individual Americans pay and choose the individual candidates for elections, we are being given frauds for our Representation and are merely consumers and not citizens. Enjoy voting the lesser evil and hope it is not a dictator. Thus the reason for term limits and no solution in sight for are failed system of Government.

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