Regardless of your political leanings, our democracy needs you to vote

Standing around ballot boxes armed with weapons is not how we protect democracy. Voting , however, is America’s primary mechanism for defending our democratic values.

And if early polling is any indication, American voters are showing up to vote in this year’s midterm elections and will likely match, if not pass , the 53% who exercised their right in 2018 – the highest turnout for a midterm election in four decades.

That’s a good thing.

Despite these record numbers, U.S. voter turnout is embarrassingly low compared with other countries . But we have the power to change those dismal numbers.

Voting is how we preserve democracy

Today, voting is more important than ever in the politically charged environment of election deniers and conspiracy theorists who aim to threaten and intimidate American democracy in a way that it has not been challenged since, quite possibly, this nation’s founding.

Our government doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The American people are its lifeblood. That means we cannot take our system of government for granted, because it wasn’t so long ago that many Americans were shut out of the democratic process.

It has been fewer than 100 years since Native Americans were given the right to vote (via the Snyder Act of 1924) . And barely a century ago, in 1920, women won that right when the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress. Before that, African American men couldn’t vote until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.

These dates, along with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, serve as reminders that not only are we a young democracy, but we are also a fragile democracy.

Voting is a big part of how we protect it.

Voting tips for Election Day

Because of worries about Election Day, and post-election day violence, and a marked increase in concern about voter intimidation, the USA TODAY Editorial Board wants you to know your voters’ rights. The ACLU has a helpful, in-depth list of what to know before and on Election Day. We’ve summarized them here:

►Know what documents you need to bring, including identification and proof of residence, especially if this is your first time voting.

►If you’re still in line when the polls close, stay put. You have the right to vote.

►If you make a mistake on your ballot, request a new one.

►If the machines at your polling place aren’t working then request a paper ballot.

►If a poll worker says your name is not on the list of registered voters, ask them to check a statewide system (if one is available) to see whether you are registered to vote somewhere else. If they don’t have access to a statewide system, ask them to call the main election office. You can also call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to verify your polling place.

►If you have a disability, you need to know that in federal elections, every polling place must have at least one voting system that allows voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently. You have the right to receive in-person help at the polls from the person of your choice, but it must not be your employer.

►If someone tries to interfere with your right to vote, in many states, you can give a sworn statement to the poll worker that you “satisfy the qualifications to vote in your state,” and then cast your ballot. Make sure to report intimidation to the election protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Also, make sure to report intimidation to your local election officials, who will have their offices open on Election Day.

Democracy is fragile

We are the guardians of our own liberty. We elect leaders to represent our wants, needs and concerns, in state legislatures and in Congress. We also elect state judges and other local politicians based on whether we think they are the best fit for office.

Voting is a fundamental part of what makes our country a democratic republic. It is not a perfect system, but it is the best system we have.

Regardless of who you decide to cast your ballot for: Democrat, independent or Republican – fulfilling your civic duty to vote is a critical part of how we preserve this beautiful and fragile democracy.