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What's Necessary To Maintain Our Democracy?

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

I hear it expressed repeatedly that, “If you do not vote in an election, then you have no right to complain or to criticize.” We should remember that individuals who do not cast a vote in an election can still exercise their right to free speech in our democracy.

Another problem for democracy is that many citizens think that voting in an election is all that is necessary and sufficient for having and maintaining a democracy. Democracy also requires effective ongoing citizen participation and the political equality of citizens. In voting, for example, we apply the principle of one person, one vote.

Free, fair, and frequent elections is one of the necessary conditions for a democracy. Universal suffrage is the distinguishing hallmark of a modern representative democracy.

Advocates of democracy also value education. Civic education and enlightened understanding of the citizenry are important criteria for a democracy. To be enlightened and to be informed requires great effort. Citizens can acquire civic education when they are engaged in public discussion, debate, deliberation and controversy. It is not healthy for democracy when people shun engagement with their fellow citizens on matters of public policy and when they do not seek access to reliable and different sources of information when thinking about public policy alternatives.

No Constitution can guarantee a democracy for a country. Democracy depends on the democratic attitudes and beliefs of the people of a country and on other underlying conditions necessary for a democracy. Two other examples of such conditions are control of the military and police by elected officials and having a modern market-oriented economy. Also, democracy will always have a need for citizen “watch dogs” to guard against the erosion of our civil liberties, especially those of the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.