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Exercise your democratic right

| Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Nigerian populace came out in droves to vote in their presidential election. Men and women waited for hours to exercise their democratic rights, and it was one of Africa’s most peaceful elections, despite attempts by Boko Haram and others to disturb the process.

The British Parliament was dissolved on March 30, marking the start of the general election to be held on May 5. Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, and David Cameron, the incumbent Prime Minister, are expected to begin their campaigns, with plenty of mudslinging from both sides. This should be a close election, as many question both parties’ policies on issues like the economy and immigration, and smaller parties are expected to do very well.

Election season is one of the most fraught, fiery situations in any country. These events allow people to speak their minds about some of the biggest political and economic issues we are faced with today. The true importance of an election is that it allows democratic countries to give the people a voice. Voting is one of the most fundamental democratic legal institutions and it is important that every single person exercise their right.

As a British citizen who has never been able to vote in the U.S., the country I have lived in for 18 years, it infuriates me that many of my peers did not vote in the federal elections. Those who have the right to vote have a very important choice, a choice some of the people in the United States do not have.

Sometimes, those who choose not to vote have good reasons. Those who abstain from voting in elections because they believe their voice is heard more through a blank ballot than a checked one have their reasons. And I can understand those who say that because they do not know enough about each candidate, they feel as if it would be irresponsible to vote. But that’s not really an excuse. Find out about the candidates. The Internet is at your fingertips. Pick up a newspaper (from a variety of sources, as every newspaper has its biases). Read about the election. Take a stand. If there is an issue that really excites you, that you want to fight for, do it. My sister recently wrote a letter to her congresswoman about net neutrality, and I admire her for the fact that she made the effort to reach out to the people who are changing this country’s laws, the laws we will have to live under and abide by.

I understand there are problems with the current system of voting. Absentee voting is a painful process. But that shouldn’t stop you from sending your ballot. And with the electoral college, it really does seem that your voice doesn’t matter. But it does. And it really matters a lot more than you think. I and many others in the United States of America don’t have the choice. Others cannot fill out what is a seemingly meaningless piece of paper. But you all can.

Apathy is not a reason to avoid voting. Apathy is only detrimental. When next voting, think about the people who fought for your right to vote. The people who risked their lives and livelihoods so that everyone could go to a voting booth and make choices to determine their own lives, not to have them be determined by other people. Apathy did not create the country we live in today. We have to be passionate, even if it is passion about changing what we view as an antiquated governmental system.

It’s true that America does not have the worst voter turnout, at 54.9 percent (although it is much lower than that of most European countries). And it’s true that having the choice and choosing not to vote is a democratic right, and one that should never be taken away (I certainly don’t believe in a forced vote). But sheer laziness about submitting an absentee ballot or waking up on voting day and not really feeling like it is not an excuse.

So the moral of the story: Vote.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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