The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

The Importance of Voting

Back to posting assignments, since they’ll be the focus of my life for the next month! This is for my public speaking class. Also, check this out from Vivian Paige (who, a year ago today, almost caused me a minor heart attack…).

How many of you voted for president in 2008? For governor in 2009? And on Tuesday?

The right-and duty-to vote is one of the highest responsibilities we have as citizens. Too many times, we choose not to exercise it, or to only exercise it in elections we deem “important.”  In my work on political campaigns, I not only work with candidates to stake out positions on issues, but I also work to convince the public that voting is a civic responsibility (and that yes, you should vote for my candidate). Today, I’m going to explain why it’s important for you to vote in every election, and why the ones that people often miss are, in many ways, more important than the ones everyone turns out for. I’ll walk you through the reasons why people vote, and also take a look at turnout statistics from recent elections. But first, some background about the right to vote here in America.


Suffrage, or the right to vote, has been a part of our nation’s heritage from its beginning. While all citizens had, in theory, a right to vote, practice in the colonies usually limited voting rights and candidate eligibility to white men who owned a certain amount of land and/or property. Between 1800 and 1840 under President Jackson, many states rescinded property qualifications to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment extended voting rights to non-white men in 1870, while the Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to women in 1920. Suffrage for Native Americans began to appear in the states in 1924. Other major laws that extended the right to vote further were the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which removed requirements such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

Writing in the American Political Science Review, political scientists William Riker and Peter Ordeshook created a mathematical formula that determines whether a person will vote:

PB+D>C

“P” is the probability that an individual vote will directly affect an individual’s outcome, and “B” is the expected benefit a person would receive if their candidate or party of choice were elected. “D” represents the social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting, and “C” is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in the electoral process. “P” is, in most elections, zero, making “D”-personal gratification-the most important element in motivating people to vote. Put differently, for me to convince you to vote, you have to have-or be given-a reason that outweighs the time and effort you will spend voting. Riker and Ordeshook discovered five major forms of gratification a voter receives: compliance with the social obligation of voting, affirming allegiance to the political system, affirming partisan preference, affirming individual importance to the political system, and-for people like me-researching candidates and issues to arrive at a decision.

Non-presidential elections have significantly lower turnouts than other elections, and midterm congressional elections-like this past Tuesday’s-generally see fewer voters than congressional elections that also decide the presidency. Between 40-42% of all registered voters in the three congressional districts that make up Hampton Roads voted on Tuesday. In 2006, the State Board of Elections reported that between 52% of all registered voters cast ballots in the midterm elections; in 2008, 75% of registered voters cast ballots across Virginia during the presidential and congressional elections. A year later, turnout shrunk to 40% for the gubernatorial race.

In most cities, the lowest voter turnout is often found in elections for municipal offices, especially when those elections occur at different times from statewide or federal elections.  23% of registered voters cast ballots in the elections for city council and mayor in Norfolk earlier this year. These elections, though, are the ones that have direct effects on voters, as local governments are most responsible for enacting the policies that come down from the federal and state level. A city’s mayor and council touch more aspects of an individual’s daily life than the president, a representative, or even a governor does.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.” Former Attorney General Robert Jackson said “it is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error, it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” While these quotes speak strongly to the power of our vote and our responsibilities as citizens, the reality I’ve painted for you today shows that, as said by many others, “decisions are made by those who show up.”  Regardless of your political leanings, your right to vote is the biggest tool you have in determining the direction of our city, state, and nation. Use it!

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Written by Coby Dillard

November 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Speeches

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