by Saad Amer
In theory, every citizen in a democracy would vote, ensuring that elected officials actually represent the values of their constituents. However, the US political system is far from that ideal. In America, midterm elections consistently yield voter turnouts less than 50%. In fact, the last time a midterm election reached a voter turnout over 50% was in 1914.
Plagued by voter suppression, gerrymandering and voter apathy, the US ranks behind most peer nations in voter turnout, placing just 26th out of 32 democracies. This has lead to a government that has failed to represent the values of its increasingly diverse population. When officials don’t represent the views of minorities, their values get subjugated, deprioritized and often forgotten. It is in part for this reason that the rights of Native Americans, LGBTQ+ people, African Americans and others have been overlooked for so long.
In an ideal democracy, everyone would be well-informed and vote for officials who represent their interests. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In the words of Michelle Obama, Founder of When We All Vote, “democracy continues with or without you.”
Blatant holes exist in the US election system. Election day is not a national holiday; voting inconveniently takes place on a Tuesday; congressional districts are drawn to favor certain political parties; voter ID laws prevent people from voting; politicians purge voter registration rolls; the list goes on.
Fortunately, organizations like Let America Vote are tackling these sorts of issue in an effort to ensure all Americans can vote. What’s more, campaigns like Plus1Vote have made strides in mobilizing voters to improve representation. The campaign urged existing voters to encourage others to vote with them on election day. Movements like these have contributed to the spike in votes in the recent midterm election.
In the 2018 midterms, just over 49% of eligible voters showed up to vote, representing a 100-year high in voter turnout. This feat includes the largest youth voter turnout in over a quarter-century and a 10 point increase in youth turnout from the previous midterms. The overall uptick in voting resulted in nearly a quarter of Congress being replaced after the election, ushering in the most diverse congressional class in US history.
To continue these strides toward representation, citizens need to show up to the polls. “Trust me, other folks are showing up,” says Michelle Obama.
If representation is the key to addressing society’s biggest problems, Americans need to vote. Only then will the America become a more ideal democracy.
Saad Amer is the Founder and Director of Plus1Vote. He is an environmentalist, photographer, and producer. He works with the National Parks Conservation Association, UNESCO and more. He studied Environmental Science and Public Policy at Harvard University.