Despite the fact that all American adults are given the right to vote in each election, many abstain from voicing their opinion at the ballot box as voting isn't compulsory. Robert Putnam has discussed how Americans have essentially deserted the voting booth, while also questioning what happened to civic engagement and social capital in the United States political system (Putnam, 1995, p. 67). Americans need to exercise their right to vote not only because it builds a sense of community, but also because it is a precious right that citizens of many nations around the world do not have.
In “The Good Society,” Amitai Etzioni defines a community as “a measure of commitment to a set of shared values, norms, and meanings, and a shared history and identity” (Etzioni, 1999, p. 83). One of the values in American culture is the ability for all citizens to engage in the political process, most notably by voting. Those who choose to forgo their right to vote are damaging the sense of community because they are not committed to voicing their opinion and embracing America’s democratic form of governance. In order to build a strong community, everyone should voice his or her opinion, especially when it comes to local issues that directly affect residents of the community.
Although some have questioned whether social capital has really declined in the United States (Durlauf, 2000, p. 5), it is difficult to deny that Americans do not take advantage of their right to vote as much as citizens of other nations, which is particularly troubling considering many people in other countries fight for the right to elect their leaders on a daily basis. With a voter turnout that is frequently around 50 percent in the United States, those who choose to stay home on election day are not only giving up one of their most important constitutional rights, but they are also hurting their community because they are disengaging in the political process and shunning the American value of democracy.
Durlauf, S. N. (2002). Bowling alone: A review essay. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 47.3. Retrieved from http://ideas.repec.org/a/eee/jeborg/v47y2002i3p259- 273.html
Etzioni, A. (2002). The good society. Seattle Journal of Social Justice 1.1. Retrieved from http://www2.gwu.edu/~ccps/etzioni/A296.pdf
Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6.1. Retrieved from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/assoc/bowling.html