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The Chronicle

Voting plays an important role in 2024 U.S. presidential election

The 2024 U.S. elections are going to be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2024. On this day, millions of Americans will be casting their ballots with their selected candidates. While the act of voting itself is not a complicated process, as long as you are registered to vote in the state of Illinois, its significance is still an integral part of how the country is going to be governed.

Ribhi Salhi is a political science professor at the College of Lake County (CLC) who specializes in topics such as politics in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, American national politics, and comparative politics.

Courtesy by Dr. Ribhi Salhi.

“The word “voting” comes from the word “franchise,”’ he said. “It means the right to vote and the right to express your thoughts in an electoral democratic process.”

Salhi went on to explain that throughout history, voting has become universal suffrage. This means that each citizen is eligible and must have the opportunity to vote. This process first began in the Greek city state of Athens, with its respective elections and voting systems.

If one is to go down even deeper in the field of political science, one will find that most experts and political scientists, who discuss the roads of democracy, emphasize the role of motive.

“One of them, for example, Robert Dahl, has a list of minimum democracy that says that the right to vote means that people must be given the opportunity to select a number of candidates to ensure that the government in the future will be their agent and will represent their demands and their needs,” he said. “The role of government is to serve you.”

In the case of the United States of America, the country’s own journey of democracy went through many interesting events. Voting did not have the aspect of universality as it is often associated with today, as certain demographics, such as women and African Americans, were not given the right to.

“This was considered a Whig democracy,” Salhi said.

Salhi emphasized that if one were to go throughout the history of the United States and the constitution, it eventually included them, such as the Fifteenth Amendment, which is the right to vote and to protect the rights of African Americans under the environment of slavery. Meanwhile, the Nineteenth Amendment came out in 1920, which gave women the right to vote as well.

He also pointed out that when American women were allowed to vote in 1920, women in the United Kingdom were given the same right in 1928.

“That was kind of like inspiration for other feminist movements elsewhere in the world.” Salhi said.

By 1971 and 1972, the United States adapted the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which allowed for both sexes, once they were eighteen years of age, to become eligible to vote.

There is also the on-going debate of whether or not an incarcerated person should be allowed to vote. The topic remains a heated discussion to this day as both sides share their perspectives. Salhi explained that this is because there has been a conflict of ideas between the conservatives and the liberals and the advocate and the non-advocate.

“Some people will argue that if a person takes another’s life, they should not have the right to vote,” he said. “But you could argue otherwise that they have the right to practice any religion, the right to go back to school, to eat, [to] smoke, and even make a phone call. So, why not give them the right to vote?”

Furthermore, he added that the reserved powers and the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution are part of the powers of the states.

“Therefore, the states have the right to create their own set of rules for the electoral laws and policies,” Salhi said. “That’s why some states ask you to register, while others don’t. That’s why some states enjoy and practice open primaries or closed primaries.”

Voting also correlates with American democracy due to the existence of Whig democracy, a specific type that only allows the wealthy to have political participation. Eventually, there was another wave called common democracy that formed around U.S. President Andrew Jackson, which spanned from generation to generation.

“We start to find American democracy hits another wave of struggle and beliefs, which we call advanced democracy.”

Salhi cited examples of this type with giving women the right to vote in the early 20th century, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, bilingual voting, which allowed voters to cast their ballots in their preferred language if they did not speak English, the media forces giving out information about the candidates, and the experts who explain the policy proposals.

Robert Dahl, an American political theorist and Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Courtesy by Robert Dahl Family Archives.

“In democracy, people create government, and government becomes [the] agent of their demands, and that’s what leads the people to practice and to have the notion of oversight,” Salhi said. “It empowers the rights of the people through popular sovereignty.”

Some of the basic things that people should know about voting are that it is associated with the following categories, which are divided by most political scientists: social and demographic characteristics, the surrounding political environment, and state electoral laws.

Salhi stated a few instances of the first category, such as the Latino American demographic, who, despite some of them being undocumented, would be able to make a difference. Those who are living in rural areas and nursing homes might not feel motivated nor have the capability to go out and vote.

“We have to have some mobility for all those people to enjoy this right,” Salhi said.

In the second category, he pointed out that some people will not vote unless there is a controversial topic that has occurred in recent years, which influences the outcome of the election all the time.

“We have the war in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the rise of China, and the two rival candidates, President Biden and former President Trump,” he said. “And that is going to drive people to vote for third-party candidates or go into the mindset that their vote does not count because the electoral college is the last resort to determining the presidency.”

Salhi added that one should keep in mind each respective state’s electoral laws, which may present certain challenges for people.

He also stressed that the importance of voting has something to do with liberal democracy as it influences the election by voting for your preferred candidates and leads to the notion of political efficacy, which is achieved in one way by voting for the candidate that you think is going to meet your expectations, as the public has the ability to influence government and it is a mark of national pride.

“Because that’s your voice in democracy, and that’s what makes the difference,” he said.

The importance of voting is a sign of democracy and is used to practice one’s constitutional rights, ensure a limited government that is under the control of the rules stated in the Constitution, and accept oversight.

“It is given to you, as a citizen, for you to engage,” Salhi said. “And to keep your eyes on the government.”

Voting is still important to society in the 21st century because of its historic standing. By the end of the 1900s, the world experienced the end of communist rule in the Soviet Union and its eventual collapse, the steady rise of globalization, and the movement towards democratization.

In connection to this, Salhi shared that there are three waves of democracy that were identified by Samuel Huntington, a renowned American political scientist. The first wave was during the American Revolution, the British Glorious Revolution, and the French Revolution that occurred in the 1800s. The second wave was at the end of the Second World War, when the Axis Powers were pushed to become liberal democratic societies. Finally, the third wave occurred during the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

“These events, the changes, and the shift from authoritarianism to democracy—we call it democratization,” he said. “And that’s what it means for the people to have the right to vote.”

But Salhi also added that authoritarian systems, although they allow their respective citizens to vote, don’t vote for political competitors. Instead, they are merely voting for a person who has already been decided. Many political scientists often label it a “fake democracy” if a nation allows the practice of voting but offers no limitations in governance.

Samuel Huntington, an American political scientist, adviser, and academic, Courtesy by Peter Lauth.

“In healthy and limited democracies, political competition is going to be there, and therefore, the interest in voting will increase,” Salhi said. “Political competition doesn’t take place unless there is polarity in political candidates who represent all kinds of ideologies, like in third parties or in multiple parties in the system.”

The biggest challenge in this scenario, according to Salhi, is to be educated and make up one’s mind on which candidate to vote for.

While some would still want to cast their vote, there will also be some who believe that their vote “doesn’t matter” and often do not participate. But how does one convince them to?

“There are good tools to encourage people to vote,” Salhi answered. “One of them is political mobilization, which is able to take on so many forms.”

He cited a number of different scenarios where this could potentially take place.

“One of them could be an influential speaker in a social gathering, which can be seen during election season; social media [can be one] because it has all kinds of platforms,” he said. “A community gathering could also be used, or even the new generations can explore more with this newfound technology we have.”

Aside from that, Salhi also said that the influences on voters’ behavior come from party identification, candidates’ characteristics, and the issue of policy proposals.

“If voters do not understand these three areas, they will experience several misconceptions,” he said.

While democracy is synonymous with the global conception of the United States, it does not appear anywhere in the constitution.

“The framers did not use it,” Salhi explained. “We have a republic; it means to have the rule of law, which is created by our representatives, who come into this office because of our vote.”

In comparison to other nations around the world, which have many different political systems from one another and have their own flaws and shortcomings, there is no such thing as a perfect system.

“We are human,” Salhi said. “We make mistakes.”

He argued that having a democracy is much better than having an authoritarian system that has oppressive elements attached to it. He emphasized that, despite its imperfections, the people have the principles of democratic institutions, the methods of government, and the roles for someone to run, which are much more ideal than having nothing.

In terms of the importance of the 2024 U.S. presidential elections, Salhi expressed that its importance is not just viewed domestically but internationally as well due to the country’s reputation as a global superpower. As a result, any move that the U.S. could make can potentially have an impact around the world.

“The U.S. is a major player in the global system,” Salhi explained. “[As a result], the U.S. presidential elections are deeply involved with foreign affairs such as the war in Ukraine, in the Middle East, and with its potential trade competitions in China.”

He further explained that due to its status as a global leader for liberalism, human rights, and democracy, this has created more attention and more tension towards the United States.

In addition, the United States was able to maintain its position because it combined the two schools of thought, realism and idealism, and molded them into one in the concept of a “grand strategy,” which allowed it to enhance its vital interests.

American flag and vote flag on wooden table, Courtesy by Marco Verch on Flickr.

Due to the rise of globalization and an increase of digital interconnectivity, Salhi also stated that in today’s world, being aware of what is going on in politics isn’t difficult to do.

“The media is offering great sources to learn from and to be educated about,” he said.

He also encouraged people who are bilingual and multilingual to find more sources in the languages that they understand.

“You can have two sources of knowledge,” he said. “And you can branch out that knowledge.”

He shared his own experiences and said that he practices this in his spare time and is able to gather all of the data from the sources he has read about, filter them out, and go on from there.

Lastly, when asked what he wanted to say to the CLC community, he said that “we have the leaders of a better tomorrow.”

If you want more information on how to register to vote and other related resources and topics, here is the link to the website of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Don’t forget to vote for the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential elections!

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About the Contributor
Rhea Hechanova
Rhea Hechanova, Editor-In Chief
Rhea was one of the editors-in-chief and served in the academic term 2023-2024.