Voting is a fundamental building block of democracy. Civic engagement is best exemplified by voting and relies on an informed and engaged citizenry. Although democracy depends on it, minorities and poor Americans often don’t vote. Involvement by these groups in the voting process is crucial though for the country to operate as a fair and equal society.

Of citizens that are most likely to not vote, 43 percent were Hispanic, African-American or other minorities, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center.

The best example of the impact a high minority turnout can have was in the 2012 presidential election. That year was the first time since 1968 in which black voter turnout was higher than that of non-Hispanic Whites, according to a survey of population characteristics done by the U.S. Census Bureau. William H. Frey, senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program, concluded the high turnout of minorities had drastic effects on the outcome of the election. It’s likely that Obama would not have been elected had it not been for the high minority voter turnout.

While there are different theories about why certain groups of people are less likely to vote than others, studies conclude that minorities and the working poor do not think that their vote matters. Politicians seldom discuss issues that minorities care about and fail to capture their attention. Sam Fulwood III, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute, said capturing the attention of and giving hope to minority voters made all the difference for Obama. Obama’s campaign literally centered around the word “hope” and capitalized on the hope he created for minorities. When there is hope that change is possible, people are more likely to think their vote matters.

Additionally, voting is a learned process, with education about politics playing a major role in the decision to vote or not. Minorities and the poor are typically under-educated about voting, pushing them toward not voting. Obstacles to vote also affect this decision. Things such as long waits, strict ID laws and increased use of provisional ballots tend to discourage people from voting. 

Minorities must vote to push issues that important to them, but lack of politicians' attention only further stratifies minorities. As Danielle C. Belton puts it in her article for the Roost, “The reason politicians ignore so many of the working poor is because they don’t vote. And the reason so many of the working poor don’t vote is because certain politicians have made sure it's as inconvenient as possible for them.” However difficult it is for these people to vote, if enough of them actually do, change is always possible.

For these groups to go out of their way to vote is worthwhile. This right to vote is a privilege that Americans sometimes take for granted. We have fought wars for the right to have a say in how the government operates. It is up to individual citizens to recognize and take advantage of this opportunity. Reaching out to minority, poor and young peoples and encouraging them to vote will strengthen the country’s democracy, ensuring a more fair and inclusive citizenry.           

Rachel Gonzales is a junior from Fort Collins, Colo., studying journalism and sociology.

— Edited by Samantha Harms