As the American presidential election process rages on, there is a natural tendency to place emphasis on the candidates themselves. Once in awhile, however, the public is reminded that it is indeed the voters, not the candidates, who are responsible for selecting the next president. Unfortunately, the conversation about voting rights is historically masked with prejudice, whether it be in the form of racism, sexism or xenophobia. This election season proves to be no different, with political pundits dismissing women who vote for Hillary because she is a woman. The truth of that statement is irrelevant — the idea that people are condemned for their voting rationale is more problematic than anything else.
Criticizing Americans for voting along seemingly superficial guidelines is not new to the 2016 election cycle. In both 2008 and 2012, conservative pundits lambasted African-Americans for voting for Barack Obama because he is black. This criticism is apparently meant to delegitimize their vote or even the election result as a whole. However, this sort of dialogue is poisonous in a democracy. The crux of the matter is simple: any reason for voting is a legitimate one. A vote based on gender or race is just as valid as one based on fiscal or foreign policy.
A vote is designed to express the sentiment that a candidate, for whatever reason, is best at representing the interests of the voter. Even if a candidate just barely indicates that he or she will represent the interests of a voter, that is reason enough to vote. The alternative, in this case, would be to simply not vote. Abstaining leaves the process to random chance, taking all power from the voters and leaving minorities both underrepresented and misrepresented. Lawmakers know this, which is why America has been so historically plagued with voter obstacles. Anything from poll taxes to voter ID laws are designed to filter out those who are voting for less than so-called legitimate reasons.
Every voter should of course be encouraged to learn more about the candidates, the issues and politics in general — it is part of one’s civic duty. Yet, in an era where not even three out of five Americans show up to vote for a president, the focus should be towards incentivizing voters to turn out, not chastising the ones who do. In places like Australia where voting is mandatory, clearly not everyone will be making the most informed decision. Still, their democracy is arguably stronger than that of the United States’ because every voice is counted. So, whether you like Clinton for her gender, Carson for his race or Sanders for his accent, it does not matter — just vote.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 16 print edition. Email Max Schachere at [email protected]