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Opinion: Voting is a Right, Not a Duty

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As fresh young minds entering the political realm, many college students are passionate, opinionated and sometimes overwhelmed. For many, this will be the first presidential voting experience. One might imagine students would be excited at such a prospect, considering it’s a new way to voice all those bottled-up opinions, but many have been more than apathetic toward the whole process. Not only have some students ignored politics as a whole, but have also actively shunned politics and voting. Then there are students on the other side who are enraged by the mere fact that any citizen in a democratic society would not take full advantage of that fact and vote. This collision of ideals has merged to create a new idea all together: is voting a duty of a democratic citizen?

Interestingly, the right to vote is not clearly stated for each citizen anywhere in the Constitution. Rather, it is the combination of several parts of the Constitution which provide for the right to vote. According to the Fair Vote Archives, the 15th, 19th and the 26th amendments discuss voting in the aspect of race, sex and age, respectively. But nowhere in the Constitution does it expressly state that a citizen of the United States has the right to vote. Yet, there is a common understanding that we have this right purely because we are a democratic society. Thus, it is believed every citizen has the right to voice his or her’s opinion by voting. It can be observed, however, that this belief is slowly being morphed into a patriotic duty more than a participant’s right.

If one were to meander through the internet and happen to stumble upon (no pun intended) the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s website and click on the section entitled “Elections & Voting,” one would find a predominant logo with the words “My Vote: My Right, My Responsibility.” Exemplifying this ideal, Husted’s website provides ample information for any voter’s use, but under the pretext that it is one’s responsibility. Though this ideal may seem prevalent, it may be important to note how many citizens actually put forth the effort to vote.

According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2011 Athens County had a population of 64,769. With only 15.2 percent being under the age of 18, there are approximately 54,924 adults residing in Athens County. This means there are approximately 55,000 Athens County residents able to vote, give or take a few because of people who are residents but not citizens. According to polling data from the Secretary of State’s website, 31,645 people voted in the general election for 2008. This means approximately 57.6 percent of adults in Athens County voted in the last general election. This may come as a surprise because of the overwhelming number of young voters in Athens County, but it may also represent students’ desire to avoid the political system.

It is not a democratic citizen’s duty to vote. If anything is a voter’s duty, it is to become an informed voter. But if a citizen is not informed, they should not be voting. Some may argue further that it then becomes a citizen’s duty to be informed, and then vote. Again, this isn’t so. As a friend of mine once said, it should be a citizen’s right not to vote just as much as it should be to vote. Citizens should vote, and they should be informed voters. But if any citizen does not want to, they should not be required nor expected to vote.

Young minds are teeming with opinions about the world, with or without information prior. These opinions should be respected equally, even if those opinions are that the entire political spectacle should be avoided. Voting is a right but not a responsibility or duty. It is a privilege granted to citizens, but they can choose whether or not to utilize it .

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