Dictatorship vs. democracy: reflections on my two opposing worlds

To vote for the first time is to experience the overwhelming joy of democratic civic participation. In many countries in the region in which I was born and raised, general elections are not held, and authoritarian leaders preside over nations rife with political repression, press manipulation, and human rights violations. Other nations continue to have elections that are farcical, with vote-buying and other forms of electoral fraud a common occurrence. So when a citizen of a truly democratic nation votes, it represents more than just choosing your local, state or federal representative. It is emblematic of a system where individual votes matter and the people can have their say.

For this reason, it pains me greatly to see this system undermined through gerrymandering and the disenfranchisement of certain segments of the voting public at the ballot box. For two centuries, the United States has been an example to the world of how a representational democracy can be run, and how a country, although politically divided, can be unified through the celebratory act of casting a ballot. In the last ten years we have witnessed attempts by political parties and governmental agencies to utilize institutionalized racism to dissuade certain voting blocs from enjoying their Constitutionally-given rights, and congressional redistricting that has the obvious goal of ensuring that each vote cast, no matter who for, means less. It seems that when a party does not like the outcome of an election, instead of rolling up their sleeves, going to the people, and finding out how they may better serve their constituents, they examine voter maps and manipulate laws to ensure the odds are in their favor next time. This is not what Lincoln envisioned of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and I doubt Jefferson would call this “the rational and peaceable instrument of reform.” With the 2014 election marking 100 years of senatorial elections, Americans must, collectively, value their voting rights enough to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights upheld, not just for themselves, but for the many nations who hold them as a model and long for the same democratic freedoms.

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