Citizen participation is vital to a
representative democracy; when actively involved, citizens can impact the
political process. There are many different types of citizen participation.
Citizens influence public policy and representation by measuring testimony at government hearings,
lobbying interactions, letter-writing to representatives, and through social
interactions. Kevin Barrier has proved this to be true when his efforts
limited the amount of construction in his neighborhood. Although voting is
only one example of citizen participation, its effects encapsulate the
significance of citizen participation in a Representative Democracy. Citizens’
right to vote has made a notable impact on American history, influenced
decisions regarding polices, and has determined who’s wants and needs have been
The year 1960 serves as a powerful reminder
that voting can change the course of history. Had one person from each voting place voted differently,
Nixon would have been our 35th president instead of Kennedy. By
choosing to vote or not, citizens play a significant role in determining the
outcome of elections which
“…wields power over the future make-up of the Supreme Court, the fate of the
U.S. military, and the outcome of numerous social issues debates.” In other
words, voting has potential to change the direction of communities, states, and
the nation. Citizen participation in the form of voting determines which groups
of people have more power over the future of America.
Since voting can impact the outcome of
elections, citizens’ choice to vote or not has a significant impact on a
Representative Democracy. Not every citizen exercises their right to
vote; although most people have opinions, only those who vote are getting a say
for who becomes their office officials. Voting is a principle part of citizen
participation because it prevents minorities from making decisions and policy
for the majority. Often times, politicians adopt policy positions in response
to those who vote in their elections. If small groups of citizens vote at
higher rates, it is possible their policy decisions will be favored. Citizen
participation, or absence of participation, can determine who’s wants and needs
are being considered during the process of decision making. This can lead to bias,
especially in local government.
Typically, local governments have lower
turnouts than in national elections. Therefore, there is greater potential for
turnout bias than there is in national elections. Say for example in a local
government, seniors voted at high rate. They may not be the majority; however,
their high voting rates could help them influence public policy in their favor.
In the United States, over half of public spending is in local or state
government. Turnout bias could potentially influence where the spending goes.
If we continued the example, it is likely that a large proportion of the
spending would be in favor of the elderly, whose policies were adopted by the
politician they voted for. Voting is an important right of each citizen, and it
could prevent turnout bias. Without voting, policies would only represent the
opinions of a small proportion of citizens, and not the entire population.
If not given a balanced understanding of the
community’s views, decision makers might not make the best decision for the
community as a whole. Consider the expression “the squeaky wheels get the
grease”. The minority may have the louder voice and the opinions of the
majority may not be equally represented. If citizens participate (even if they
don’t share the popular opinion) there is a greater chance that the final
product will address some of the concerns of other groups.
“By voting, you are making your voice heard and
registering your opinion on how you think the government should operate.” Citizens
decide who represents them in government, which has a tremendous impact on
their lives. In a representative democracy, the government impacts the health
care, safety and education of citizens. Decisions regarding topics such as
these affect every citizen; therefore, it is their right to have a say in who
will head the government at the national and local levels. Active citizens who
vote have the potential to help elect a leader whose beliefs and morals match
up with their own. Say for example you believed taxes should be lower, you can
vote for a candidate who promises tax reduction. If elected, the leader one
voted for can help shape the government to their liking.
Although there are many different
forms of citizen participation, its impact on a Representative Democracy is
captured by the effects of voting.