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Voting: Duty, Privilege or Right?

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2112-electionby Richard John Stapleton

Representative democracy has no legitimacy if it only represents the interests of large corporations and the elite rich. Some voters primarily see voting as a duty and encourage increased voter turnout for all, while others consider voting to be a privilege and try to suppress the votes of the opposition. With their government now controlled by corporations and the wealthy elite, many voters are questioning why voting is not one of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, while others believe the best way to preserve their self-respect is not to vote at all.

The earliest record of direct democracy is found in Greece around 500 BC when adult male citizens gathered in mass assemblies to vote on the issues of the day. The right was limited in some cases to those who owned property or those who had completed military training. Subsequently, various methods were used to select representatives, including a lottery, in which representation was considered a duty of citizenship.

The government of the American colonies eventually became a form of representative democracy, and the rallying cry of the Revolution, "no taxation without representation," related to the withholding of the right to vote on political representatives and executives by individual colonists.

Initially, access to voting in the United States was limited to male property owners and the Constitution did not explicitly guarantee a right to vote for all citizens and did not allow voters to directly elect senators or the president. Subsequent amendments prohibited voting discrimination against former slaves, women, non-property owners and young adults; however, an explicit right to vote for all citizens has never been added to the U.S. Constitution.

The effective voting rights of American citizens have been further eroded by a series of Supreme Court decisions which have extended de facto constitutional rights to corporations, most recently in Citizens United, or which have equated political contributions with free speech.

The resulting tsunami of campaign cash has allowed corporations and the wealthy elite even greater domination over both major political parties. With their increased power, they can more readily trample the interests of ordinary voters giving, based on the evidence thus far, a much greater advantage to the Republican Party, the default party of plutocrats.

Ostensibly, the United States remains a representative democracy; however, this form of democracy no longer represents the interests of middle and lower-income Americans.

Today, about half of eligible voters fail to cast ballots feeling and thinking that voting only provides legitimacy to a corrupt system, so they don't vote at all.  In doing so, they shoot themselves in their own feet.

The rallying cry for a voter boycott movement is, "if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it or make it illegal." It is not difficult to sympathize with these sentiments; however, it is self-defeating. By doing nothing nonvoters simply make it easier for plutocrats to win.

As the power of government becomes increasingly concentrated in a plutocracy of the minority, it will claim legitimacy even if only 5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The plutocracy will interpret and define the failure to vote as inferiors proving they lack the responsibility, education and intelligence to wisely manage affairs. Therefore they deserve what they get.

Voting is the absolute foundation of a free and democratic society, and it is a responsibility of every qualified voter to do everything in their power to ensure the continuation of hard-earned freedoms for the next generation.

Fortunately there is an alternative to either casting a worthless vote for a plutocratic government or boycotting elections. Support is growing for a Voters’ Rights Amendment (USVRA) to the Constitution that deprives corporations of constitutional rights and denies the equation of campaign donations and free speech.  Moreover, the USVRA clearly establishes that the right to cast an effective vote is an inherent right under the Constitution, and in addition, it provides for a national paid voting holiday, a national hand-countable paper ballot, and a process for the people to have a more direct role in the formulation of public policy. Finally, it requires mandatory voter registration and prohibits voter suppression.

Voters are the backbone of America and they made the US the nation it is today.  Like veterans of wars, they should be honored and respected with their day--Voter's Day--every two years on the dates of the federal elections.

Please see the details of the USVRA at www.usvra.us and register your support. It seems to me this is the best hope for all Americans.  We must either become more democratic, with more voter participation, or sit back and watch the U.S. fall deeper and deeper into a fascist abyss.

Richard John Stapleton is an emeritus professor of business policy and business ethics at Georgia Southern University who writes on economic and political matters.


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