Rubaya Yeahia, center, winner of the annual high school essay contest sponsored by the Association of Supreme Court Justices, displays her award at a ceremony honoring 10 finalists at the New York City Bar Association on Monday. Joining the event were, left to right, Administrative Judge Sherry Klein Heitler; Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who announced the awards; Yeahia, a senior at Stuyvesant High School; Appellate Division, Second Department, Justice Robert Miller, who runs the awards program, and Kris Fischer, editor-in-chief of the New York Law Journal. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
The following is the winning essay of the annual High School Essay Contest sponsored by the Association of Supreme Court Justices. The contest is open to high school students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades throughout New York City. The 2014 winner and nine finalists, who wrote on “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters,” will have the opportunity to intern in the state court system for one week in the summer, and were awarded gift certificates from the New York Law Journal.
“Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.”
— Thomas Jefferson
As nations around the world struggle for democratic rights against oppressive governments, citizens of the United States seem to grow increasingly skeptical of their roles in a democratic society. In 2012, only 50 percent of voters in the 18-to-29 age group actually voted, amounting to only 19 percent of the total votes cast that year.1 As a young person myself, I must admit that I wasn’t interested in voting either until I took a government class. It is the dangerous combination of the current youth culture and the widespread disillusionment with government that has turned many young Americans away from voting.
Young people in the 21st century live very fast-paced and secluded lives. The Internet and technology have the power to both educate and hinder us. Instead of using those things to learn more about the world, many young people find themselves creating a whole new world with personal distractions, pop culture and fewer human interactions. It becomes less about other people and their issues and more about one’s self and one’s personal issues. In addition, the media today appear to be more preoccupied with what goes wrong in government instead of what’s going right. As a result, citizens, specifically young people, develop a “who cares” kind of mentality toward elections and representation in the government. We all reluctantly learn about the importance of representation in government through the words of European philosophers and the Founding Fathers in school, but we never really realize the gravity of their words in relation to our own lives.
On a more quantitative level, voting is crucial because even a small number of votes can decide an election. In the 2000 presidential election, Bush won Florida by only 537 votes out of 5.9 million.2 The 1974 New Hampshire Senate election came down to a margin of just two votes. These are just two of many close elections in American history that illustrate that every vote truly does matter. Philosophically, we fail to realize that voting is one of the most important rights a citizen can have. It shows that we have a say in society and that the government values our input.
It gives politicians an incentive to work for what the people want, rather than what they personally want. To say that voting doesn’t matter is to forget all the generations of American citizens who labored to give us this basic human right. African Americans, women and immigrants in the past few centuries were jailed, beaten and killed for demanding the right to vote. Voting is not just a ballot that one casts into a pool of statistics and calculations, it is a symbol of how far we have come as Americans in regards to government and human rights. This nation was formed upon egalitarian principles and voting ensures that these principles will not and cannot be done away with easily.
Rubaya Yeahia is a senior at Stuyvesant High School.
1. “11 Facts About Voting,” Do Something. Web, 10 March 2014.
2. Forer, Ben, “Small Margins: A Look Back at the Closest Votes.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 04 January 2013. Web, 10 March 2014.