September 06, 2018

POV: At it's Fundamental Core, Democracy Gives Voice

“Democracy: A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” [Credit: Merriam-Webster]

According to the U.S. Census, since 1980 participation in voting has hovered in the mid 60’s. Regardless of the variables (record low in 1996 had 58.4% and record high in 1992 with 67.7%) we can say with some certainty that there is a vast percentage (approximately 35%) of people who are eligible to vote in the United States that do not vote.

At its fundamental core, democracy gives voice.

When we, as U.S Citizen’s exercise our constitutional right to vote in free and fair elections we give voice to the ideals, dreams, and hopes we wish to see in our communities and in our country. Participating in the democratic process means we get to select our leaders – the ones who appropriate money to fix our roads, to build our schools, to maintain our parks. The leaders that decide our voting districts and appoint our Supreme Court Justices.

My own journey to democracy started as a young girl. My mom spoke often about the importance of voting and the weight it carried for us as women. She often stated that her Grandmother (my Great Grandma Severson, who was born in 1916 in Canada to American farm workers) was born at a time when women were not allowed to vote. Woven with that narrative is the story from my father’s family relating that American citizenship was so important to my Great Grandmother Bustillos that all of her children were born north of the U.S.-Mexico border (regardless of migration patterns for work). While location of birth did not matter in the early 1900’s she was forwarding thinking enough to know that where her children were born would matter in the future.

I share this with you to illustrate that each of us likely have our own story of where we first heard of democracy, voting, and its relationship to the functioning of our communities and our country. September 25, 2018 holds two special intersections of excitement for UNA. First it is our annual nonprofit conference. And secondly, it is the National Register to Vote Day in the United States.

Voting and registering to vote should not only be easy to do it should also be something we embed as part of a regular activity. Long before voting by mail was a thing, I remember going to the local senior center near my house, standing in line, stepping up to the table where the poll worker was, giving my name, getting a ballot and then walking into one of those sectioned off ‘rooms’ to cast my vote. The biggest satisfaction was going back to the table where the poll worker was and dropping my ballot into the bin. Every time I came to vote, to give voice to democracy, I thought of my great grandmother’s and their sacrifices, their dreams, and the rights they fought for. Truly each of us who are eligible to vote should have that same feeling of satisfaction – of giving voice to democracy – of casting our ballots for initiatives and candidates we believe in.

I am hopeful that we as a country can get voting numbers well into the 80% participation category. That can only happen however with the help of each of us doing our part. Step 1 is making sure you are registered (and that your address is updated). Step 2 is educating yourself about candidates and ballot initiatives. And the last and final step is casting your ballot.

UNA is here to help you with Step 1 – registering to vote! (or updating your record!)

You can register to vote by following this link. Or you can register to vote when you come to UNA’s annual nonprofit conference on September 25. Huge thanks to Salt Lake County Clerk’s office for helping us with this initiative.

Register to vote. Participate in democracy. Give voice to the things you believe in and the future you want to see.