At a time of global pandemic, when we must maintain a physical distance from one another to reduce the spread of a deadly disease, closing the office might seem notional.
It is not.
Voting is perhaps the most formal action we take as citizens in a democracy. It is the active demonstration of what it means to be governed by the people, for the people. Over and over throughout human history, people have dreamed and debated and then fought to realize a world that protects their right to a say in who governs. The right to vote is precious. There is nothing automatic nor inviolable about the right to vote. It must be defined in law, protected in practice and constantly renewed. That is how democracies stay vibrant.
This election stands out for many reasons. It comes during a pandemic that has forced electoral authorities to think anew about how people vote. Americans abroad appear to feel a revitalized engagement, as their votes from afar join millions of American votes cast at home to arrive at the polling station through the U.S. postal service. The 2020 U.S. election has shone a brighter light than usual on who can vote and on the mechanics of how to cast a ballot. This effort reminds us that the apparently simple premise of a democracy — every citizen of age has the right to vote — is not simple in practice. It takes thought, deliberation and active engagement to protect and promote that right.
Many countries hold elections on the weekend or declare a public holiday on election day. Some countries require all eligible voters to cast a vote by law, imposing financial penalties on those who fail to show up and be counted. Our World in Data has a chart showing the share of the world’s population that lives in a democracy. The numbers estimate that more than half the world’s people live in a country that respects their vote, but only just half: In 2015, an estimated 56% of the world’s population live in a democracy.
This November 3, IATP wishes everyone across the United States a peaceful day as the country engages in the essential act of reaffirming our democracy.