“Hi! Are you registered to vote?”
“Oh ok, would you like to register to vote today?”
“I can’t, sorry.”
Whenever I’m approached by a voter registration volunteer, I always feel slightly awkward because I know I would have to embark on yet another winded explanation on how I am not an American citizen and that the constitutional right to vote is not afforded to me.
Having grown up in China, I have not voted in a single election in my whole life. Elections in China take place at the local level and in an hierarchical system in which the lower level governing body elects the one directly above it. In addition, the ballot is tightly controlled by the governing party. So, while I technically could vote for certain smaller local offices, the vast majority of citizens do not vote directly to elect the leader of the country.
While I never felt an urge to vote at home growing up, since it was not something that was customary in China, my perspective gradually shifted as I began high school in the United States. AP U.S. history classes taught me about the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which states:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude…”
At the time, voting as a right was an unusual concept to me as I continued to adjust to the culture around me. However, the idea of being able to make choices, whether directly or indirectly, about the policies governing a country and having that ability protected by law is empowering to me as it was not afforded to me growing up. The unique privilege of being a part of shaping your country’s history, whether you believe in that change or not, is invigorating.
Having the ability to vote protected by law affirms its sanctity. In a democracy where majority rules, voting is also an opportunity to hold those in power accountable on all fronts whether they like it or not. While the reality may have its nuances, on Election Day, every person gets one vote and one vote only, a concept which puts every citizen on equal grounds. Such is not the case in many parts of the world where the leadership chooses to tune out the dissonance, creating fundamental differences in the value of each person’s humanity. The “right” to partake in civic discourses, hold leaders accountable, and become involved in shaping your own country’s history and policies in some parts of the world thus become a privilege in others.
Some may argue that their one vote is not going to change anything. In fact, in an April poll release by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, 36% of 18- to 29-year-olds feel that “political involvements rarely have tangible results”, 42% said that their vote “doesn’t make a difference”, and 56% expressed that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing”.
Many describe the aforementioned phenomenon as “voter fatigue.” While I have not voted in this country, I can relate to the sense of powerlessness in not being able to make decisions that could potentially impact our own communities. In addition, it is perfectly understandable to feel so disconnected with the policies governing this country that you do not feel compelled to contribute to their shaping. While I’m not going to invoke the cliche — every vote matters — I ask you to think about how you felt after Roe v. Wade was overturned, where you were after the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., how you would feel now that the Supreme Court is poised to rule affirmative action as unlawful…
It is okay to feel disappointed in and disconnected with the current state of politics, but being able to have a voice in the policies influencing your community is a privilege that many of us from around the world do not have. So before you think about not voting on Nov. 8, think again: Would you feel differently if you were not afforded that privilege to start with?
JESSE ZHANG is a College and Wharton junior studying marketing and communication from Shenzhen, China. He is the DP’s Photo Editor. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.