Why You Should Vote
An essay on the vital importance of voting—not just for the good of the nation, but for your health, happiness, and pocketbook. New Jersey-based musician James Williams breaks down why the disengaged voter should reengage and cast their vote.
A lot of people think that voting doesn't matter—that the act of voting is futile. I’ve seen and heard various reasons as to why they feel this way, but they are all misguided and, in many cases, flat-out wrong. Voting seems like a simple, arbitrary act, but in reality is significant to and directly impacts so many areas of our daily lives. If you are one of these people, here’s why you should vote.
Maybe you’re disengaged because you feel politics doesn’t really affect your life. You’d rather focus on friends and family, making money, or celebrity gossip. Truth is, the government and the policies it enacts profoundly affect everyone’s lives. The government directly impacts what you can and can’t do to make money and who has access to those opportunities. It may be hard to imagine, but our ability to start a business, pursue higher education, access the internet, or enjoy the entertainment of our choice—all of these things are regulated by the government. The government plays a major role in the kinds of jobs we can do, the amount of money we can make, the quality and funding of education, our access to healthcare, and the health and safety of our food. These aren’t things most people think about because, until now, our government has always run relatively seamlessly. Your access to resources, jobs, funds, safety and protections stem directly from policies and the enforcement of them.
If there’s anything you care deeply about—like social justice, climate change, women’s rights, health care, workers’ rights, or entrepreneurship—whatever comes of the topic is largely contingent on the government and who we elect into office.
If there’s anything you care deeply about—like social justice, climate change, women’s rights, health care, workers’ rights, or entrepreneurship—whatever comes of the topic is largely contingent on the government and who we elect into office. You don’t get police reform without having a mayor, sheriff and/or attorney general who agrees police should be held accountable and representatives in Congress and the city council to sign legislation to make that happen. You don’t get affordable and comprehensive healthcare without laws being passed to make that a reality. Laws can allow one set of people access to things and freedoms while blocking an entire other group, and just as those policies enable our freedoms, policies can take those freedoms away.
As a Black man, I was always taught that I should vote to honor those who came before me who couldn’t vote, vote for those who fought and died for my right to. This statement is true, but it’s even deeper than this. We need to vote and stay engaged to keep our freedoms. Unless you are a Caucasian, heterosexual male who owns land, the freedoms and protections you enjoy today had to be fought for and ultimately signed into law. Even then, the process wasn’t a straight line. For many people, these freedoms were granted and then taken away because our elected officials didn’t enforce the laws that had been enacted. Black Americans went through this with the right to vote. A lot is said about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, where Black Americans ultimately secured full voting rights and civil protections, but many forget that those rights had already been signed into law, written into the constitution 90 years prior through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments ratified right after the Civil War. Black men were granted the right to vote all across America, but by 1889, Southern states enacted laws and regulations that took those rights away. It took 76 years to get those rights back, and even today, suppression of Black voters is one of the key Republican tactics for winning elections and maintaining power.
By removing yourself from [the voting] process, you not only stifle your voice, you lose your ability to hold your politicians accountable and ensure your issues and desires are not a priority.
Now you’re probably thinking, what do these laws and legislation have to do with me voting? Well, that legislation is directly linked to the vote. Remember, laws don’t just appear out of thin air; politicians create and pass them. Politicians don’t just appear into the roles and seats they have; they are elected by us. By removing yourself from that process, you not only stifle your voice, you lose your ability to hold your politicians accountable and ensure your issues and desires are not a priority. Being a senator, congressperson, attorney general, mayor, sheriff, or other elected government official is a powerful position which often comes with great perks. In order for any of those politicians to keep their positions, they need votes. It only makes sense that they focus on the people who actually vote. Why would they waste energy, time, and resources on people who make it clear they will not help keep them in office? Why pass policies that may very well help those who flaunt not voting at the risk of upsetting the people who do vote? Our vote matters, and it shapes policies everyday.
The case of Breonna Taylor is a perfect example of this. It didn't matter how many hashtags went out, how many celebrities spoke out, or how much the topic was trending—no substantial justice was given to Breonna Taylor and her family. We were hearing about it from New York to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami, Chicago to Houston, on tennis courts, even in post-race interviews on the Formula One race tracks of Europe, but the message rang hollow. Why? Because none of these people vote in Kentucky, and none of these people elect the Attorney General of Kentucky. Truth be told, the people of Kentucky, the majority of voters in Kentucky, simply do not care for justice for Breonna Taylor. Kentucky is an overwhelmingly Republican state, and as such, elected a Republican Attorney General, Daniel Cameron. Cameron, who has the power to bring Taylor's murderers to trial, declined to seek charges. Why did he do that? Because he knows that his voters, his party, do not desire justice for Breonna Taylor and, ultimately, Black lives. They want nothing that implies Black Lives Matter, and so the Attorney General acted accordingly. If you don't want to believe this, ask yourself, Why was it that this particular Attorney General was selected to give a speech during the nationally televised Republican National Convention in August? His office was doing everything in its power to slow walk any substantive criminal investigations into Taylor's case. With the GOP being the party of All Lives Matter, they rewarded him with a nationally televised spot on the program celebrating the party. The injustice shown to Breonna Taylor and her family is a direct result of the voters.
You won't always see a candidate who you absolutely love, but it's still important to participate. Don't fall into the trap that both sides are the same either. One candidate will always have more for you and yours than the other.
Voting makes sure our elected officials answer to us. Protesting and marching is great, but if the elected officials don't feel like they'll lose their positions, the protests and marches become nothing more than a block party and parade. We need to hold them accountable in order to see the changes we want to see. If they don't do what we want, we have to vote them out and replace them with someone who does do what's best for the people. You won't always see a candidate who you absolutely love, but it's still important to participate. Don't fall into the trap that both sides are the same either. One candidate will always have more for you and yours than the other, and each has policies that will affect your life one way or another. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
The 1964 presidential election was a good example of this for Black America. Malcolm X advised that Black America should not vote for either the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson or the Republican Barry Goldwater, because he believed they were both racists. He argued that neither would do anything for Black people. Malcolm meant well, but he was wrong. Johnson was by far the better choice and signed into law the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. What made these bills become law was the overwhelming support Johnson got from Black voters in the North which helped secure his reelection. Had Black America not engaged and Goldwater won, Jim Crow laws would have remained in place for much longer.
Now if for some reason, you still can't bring yourself to vote for either prominent presidential candidate, that's ok. There are still other races that matter, will affect your life, and, in many ways, can determine what the eventual president can accomplish. Vote for the senators and congresspeople who represent you. Vote for your attorney general, your county sheriff, your governor, your mayor, members of the school board. These people make decisions that affect your daily life long before the President does.
At every level of government, it's important to have competent people. If this disaster of a pandemic response has taught us anything, it's that competent leadership matters and makes a huge difference.
Many states also have ballot questions and initiatives that allow voters to have a direct voice on many important issues. In my home state of New Jersey, one of the questions on the 2020 General Election ballot is about whether to decriminalize cannabis. If this passes, it will have huge implications, but its enforcement is also dependent on the candidates elected into office. For example, in 2018, Florida voters voted overwhelmingly to give ex-felons the right to vote. In the same election, however, Floridians also elected a Republican governor and state representatives whose party is strictly opposed to the re-enfranchisement of ex-felons. As a result, millions of voters who should be able to vote now still cannot. Your vote matters.
At every level of government, it's important to have competent people. If this disaster of a pandemic response has taught us anything, it's that competent leadership matters and makes a huge difference. Hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars could have been saved if the United States had competent leadership that acknowledged and addressed the pandemic like in many other countries. Even with the lack of leadership from the White House, if there were more senators and governors in office who followed science, the US would have a better grip on COVID today. We can't get more of those kinds of representatives without voting. In the short term, if this leadership isn't voted out in this election, the US will be stuck unnecessarily struggling with COVID for much longer and more severely than necessary. We will also continue to be banned from traveling most of the rest of the world. As a musician, the lack of COVID response affects me directly. With no clear plan on how to contain the virus, my primary source of income is all but eliminated. Venues that host the events I once performed in can’t have shows or have to do so at a very limited capacity. Limited capacity means limited earning potential. The international travel restrictions also take away touring opportunities.
Vote to help secure the best possible future for you and those you love. Vote to protect the ideas and the people you love. Make your voice heard, and engage consistently to make sure we always have the best candidates to pick from and the best people leading.
You might be choosing not to vote because of the Electoral College or gerrymandering, but neither should stop you. Many people are confused about the Electoral College and think that it means your vote doesn’t matter. But the members or electors of the Electoral College cast their votes based on the popular vote of the state they represent. If Candidate A wins more votes from the citizens of North Carolina than all the other candidates, all of North Carolina's electors cast their votes for that candidate. If Candidate B wins more votes in Missouri, then Missouri's electors cast their votes for Candidate B. The first person to get 270 electoral votes wins the presidency. If you want your preferred presidential candidate to win, you should vote to at least help make sure they win your state. It’s true that the Electoral College gives outsized representation to voters in rural states, but this is not an insurmountable problem. Besides that, the Electoral College has no effect on the other races. Neither your senator, congressperson, nor any other down ballot race is determined by the electoral college, and voting in these races is just as important as voting for the president.
Gerrymandering is problematic, but it does not completely invalidate your vote—for one thing, it has no effect on the statewide races like the senate, state attorney general, or sheriff races. Nor does it affect the Presidential election. Gerrymandering does affect congressional and district elections. Every ten years, the congressional maps are redrawn so that each congressional district represents roughly the same number of residents. Gerrymandering is the process where the politicians in power at the time of redistricting redraw the maps to favor their party or disenfranchise a particular group of voters. They make it so more districts have more people likely to vote for them, thus giving them an advantage. This system is biased but also not insurmountable. The best way to fight against gerrymandering is to vote overwhelmingly and overpower the system’s biases. This also puts us in position to hold our representatives accountable and pass laws that will limit or eliminate the ability of future elected officials to gerrymander their districts for political gain.
We all have a say, we all have a voice. Voting is one way to turn that voice into action. Vote selfishly or selflessly, radically or pragmatically, but please, make sure that you vote.
We all have dreams of a future we would like to see. We have goals we want to achieve and visions of better lives for the people that come after us. Though many things in life seem to be beyond our control, we do have tools to shape our future. Voting is one of those tools. Personally, I vote knowing that it isn’t the end-all and be-all or the magic solution, but it is a vital step. I vote in order to have a say in how the future plays out. Voting is the easiest way to enact the changes you want to see. Vote to help secure the best possible future for you and those you love. Vote to protect the ideas and the people you love. Make your voice heard, and engage consistently to make sure we always have the best candidates to pick from and the best people leading. If nothing else, isn't it better to do all you can to elect the candidate who represents what's best for you all? Leaving that decision up to someone else only ensures that someone else chooses who is elected and ultimately gets what's best for them at your expense. We all have a say, we all have a voice. Voting is one way to turn that voice into action. Vote selfishly or selflessly, radically or pragmatically, but please, make sure that you vote.
Get more information on your ballot, polling place, and early information at Vote.org via the link below.
James Williams is a musician from Teaneck, New Jersey, based in the New York/New Jersey area. When there isn’t a pandemic you can catch him all over performing with Tangina Stone, and various other artists, or working as an audio engineer. He is also a producer and background vocalist. You can connect to James on Instagram via the link below.