Image credit: Lauren Shiplett, shared under CC BY 2.0

Stop thinking about voting as a right

There’s a more powerful way to look at it

Kaila Colbin
4 min readSep 27, 2020


It was the seventh day of the eleventh month of the first year of the new millenium, and I had failed to vote.

I mean, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, or feeling particularly disillusioned or disenfranchised. Truth is, I just couldn’t be bothered.

See, I was living in Florida at the time, but on the day in question I was in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the middle of a multi-month road trip for work.

Of course, I could have gotten an absentee ballot and voted anyway, but that just seemed like a bit of a hassle. (Please read the previous sentence in your whiniest, angstiest teenage voice.)

And anyway, what difference would one vote make? Surely my vote wouldn’t matter.

So on the night in question, my business partner and I are barhopping around the French Quarter, and of course every bar is running the election results.

First bar we go into has the news anchor calling Florida for Gore. Oh that’s good then, think I. Drink.

Second bar has them saying ‘oh whoopsie did we say Gore we meant Bush sorry not sorry.’ Oh that’s too bad, think I. Drink.

Next bar Gore. Next bar Bush. On and on throughout the night. I stumble back to my hotel room. Fall asleep. Wake up the next morning. Turn on CNN just in time to hear the announcer say, “Well, the election’s still undecided, and it all comes down to the state of Florida.”

Darn, think I. I should have voted.

He goes on: “And one of the most hotly contested counties in Florida is Broward County” — where I lived.

Darn, think I. I *really* should have voted.

Then he delivers the killer blow: “And I’m broadcasting to you from Lester’s Diner” — the diner on the corner of my block, where I had breakfast multiple times a week, and my horror is growing as I’m waiting for him to add, “and YOU, KAILA COLBIN, YOU DIDN’T VOTE AND WE’RE ALL WAITING FOR YOU.”

I felt sick.

Worse, for the next eight years, I felt I had no right to complain.

Voting is the most basic tool in the democratic toolkit, and I had failed to use it.

Voting is, of course, a human right, like education, health care, and freedom of speech. And, like education, health care, and freedom of speech, it is a right that is not—and has never been—equally and universally distributed.

Everyone has the right to a quality education. But not everyone has the privilege of a quality education. Those of us who have that privilege must not take it for granted.

Everyone has the right to health care. But not everyone has the privilege of health care. Those of us who have that privilege must not take it for granted.

Everyone has the right to free speech. But not everyone has the privilege of free speech. Those of us who have that privilege must not take it for granted.

And everyone has the right to vote. But not everyone has the privilege of being able to vote.

150 years ago, only men who owned property and paid taxes could vote.

It’s only been 100 years since women were granted the right to vote in America.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that voting rights can’t be denied on the basis of race, passed in 1870, but Black people didn’t have meaningful access to voting until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, just 55 years ago.

Before the VRA, around 23% of voting-age Black Americans were registered to vote. Within four years of the Act’s passage, that number rose to 61%.

Even today, between roll purging, gerrymandering and voter ID laws, for millions of Americans, the right to vote is under constant attack.

Those of us who have the privilege of voting must not take it for granted.

The 2000 presidential election came down to 537 votes in the state of Florida. So, no, my one vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

But it’s a hell of a lot harder to argue that your vote doesn’t matter when you’re one of 537 instead of one of 130,000,000.

Right now, we’re being inundated with punditry and prognostication: This is what the polls say! This is what’s likely to happen! This person’s winning! This person’s losing!

Those messages are compounded by dire predictions: The Post Office is being undermined! The Supreme Court is being stacked!

And all of it is enhanced by legitimate logistical complexity and risk: there is, after all, a pandemic on.

You would be forgiven for thinking, as I did 20 years ago, that it’s all just a bit of a hassle. That surely your vote won’t matter.

But imagine. Imagine waking up the day after the election. Imagine turning on the TV and hearing the news that your vote, along with just a few hundred others, would have swung the election one way or the other.

Imagine knowing that you had the privilege of voting, and that you had taken that privilege for granted.

Now imagine the happier scenario. Imagine that you cast your vote, and the election goes your way with only a few hundred votes to spare.

The media doesn’t decide the election. The courts don’t decide it. The government doesn’t decide it.

You decide the election. We decide it.

And—even if it is a bit of a hassle—your vote matters. Your vote is your voice. Your vote is your power. Your vote is your right, and your vote is your privilege. It is the most basic tool in the whole democratic tool kit.

So use it. Vote.

We’re all waiting for you.



Kaila Colbin

Founder/CEO Boma. Dual citizen USA/NZ. Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator. Just wants the world to be a better place.