Voting is a civic duty

Sept. 19, 2018, 4:55 p.m.

Our right to vote is hard-won. It took centuries of struggle to establish this right — for property-less men, for women, for African Americans, and, in 1971, for all US citizens over the age of 18.  The right to vote is fundamental to protecting, asserting and defining many of our other rights. Almost all of the social and economic rights Americans enjoy today — from Medicare and Medicaid, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Clean Air Act — exist because citizens elected public officials who voted to enact them.

But low numbers of American citizens exercise their right to vote, and, unfortunately, Stanford students are no exception. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), only 48.1% of eligible Stanford undergraduates, graduates and post-doctoral fellows voted in the 2016 Presidential election. NSLVE calculated that less than 20% voted in the 2014 mid-term elections.

As the three deans responsible for overseeing the education of the largest number of Stanford’s students, including all of its undergraduates, we write to urge you, regardless of your political affiliation, to register and to exercise your right to vote.

Here, we offer 5 main reasons for voting:

  1. We build our democracy with votes. Through our votes, we express what we as citizens think is in our collective interests; we empower officials to act in our name to promote those interests.
  2. It’s the power of the vote that keeps our elected officials accountable.
  3. If only some people vote, elected officials are likely to give less weight to the interests and views of non-participants. Studies show that young voters, along with citizens with lower levels of income and education, are less likely to vote.
  4. It is sometimes said that no one’s vote makes a decisive difference. But each person’s vote makes our democracy more representative of the will of its citizens. In close local elections, small numbers of votes can be decisive.
  5. Our country (and our world) face significant challenges that require the action of government: climate change, inequality, global conflict, terrorism and poverty. Individual action, however well motivated, cannot compare to what can be accomplished by the actions of large state institutions. As a citizen it is essential for you to vote on the basis of your informed views about those candidates who offer the best public policy responses to these challenges.

It is easy to register, in whichever state you are entitled to vote:

Of course, you can certainly do more — along with others, including U.S. immigrants who do not have the right to vote — to help to make our society and our world better. We do not mean to suggest that the only way for you to be involved in questions of public concern is by means of a vote. But it is a way, and perhaps the most important way.

So, vote for the party and candidate of your choice, but by all means vote.


— Debra Satz, Dean of Humanities and Sciences, Jennifer Widom, Dean of Engineering, Stephan Graham, Dean of Earth, Energy and Environmental Resources

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