Ken Connor

On Tuesday, we will choose the next leader of our country. No election in recent memory has been this important, publicized, and controversial. The next President of the United States will face extremely difficult decisions as he grapples with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our volatile economy, and the upcoming entitlement crisis. It would be hard to overstate the importance of voting in this election.

Thankfully, all signs point toward a huge uptick in voting. Voter turnout in the primaries was at its highest since 1972, and people are voting early in record numbers. Hopefully this trend will continue, and we will have another high general election turnout like in 2004.

It is all too easy to take our right to vote for granted. Since our country's inception, Americans have had a direct say in the governance of our country. But this great privilege is an anomaly. For most of human history, countries have been governed by unelected kings and dictators. Historically, birthright and military power have been the primary factors in deciding who will rule.

Thankfully, our Founding Fathers worked hard to establish a representative form of government, so that rulers would be held accountable to the people. They recognized the inherent tendency of power to corrupt the human heart, so they set up a system wherein the passion of the masses would be tempered by the rule of a few representatives, and the power of those few would be controlled by the votes of the masses. The Founders understood the dual problems of tyranny and unbridled democracy.

Central to our American system of government is the belief that placing power in the hands of the people is the surest way to preserve liberty. Amidst difficulties in ratifying the federal Constitution, James Madison said, "The People were, in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties were got over. They could alter constitutions as they pleased." Madison believed that the people were the source of legal authority; their consent determined law.

The Founders' belief in republican democracy turned out to be well-founded. More than two centuries later, we continue to live in the freest country in the world. But that freedom is only secured by our continued right to vote, and we have a duty to exercise that right, lest we allow the tyranny of the few to hold sway over the many. As John Quincy Adams said, "Where annual elections end, there slavery begins." Elections by the populace are the surest succor for freedom.

Inherent in our right to vote is the duty to cast an informed vote. To vote without understanding who it is and what it is you are voting for is to throw away your vote. Merely voting "R" or "D" is a disservice to your country and your fellow Americans. Each one of us has a duty to understand who it is we are electing to office.

Voters will do well to resist peer pressure. Columnists, party leaders, activists, and talking heads of all sorts pressure people into voting for one candidate or another simply because "everyone's doing it" or "they've got it in the bag." On the contrary, each person's vote is their own weighty responsibility, and each has to rectify that vote with their conscience.

Even when faced with poor options, we must not retreat to the corner saying, "It doesn't matter—they're all the same." Each election is bigger than the candidates running. Each election is a chance to reaffirm our right to vote. Each election is a chance to buttress our system of government. Neglecting this right will weaken our system. Vote for whomever you will, write-in a candidate if you do not like the options on the ballot, but by all means do vote.

This election will have great bearing on the life of our nation for years to come. The next President will shape the future of our troubled economy, determine the strategies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will sit for decades, shape the contours of our civil liberties in a time of national fear, influence the future of healthcare in our country, and guide the moral limits placed on rapidly-developing technologies. Out of concern for these and the myriad of other issues which will be influenced by the next President, don't fail to exercise your civic duty on November 4th. Vote!


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.