Voting — along with protesting, an independent press, and transparent governance — is one of the basic building blocks of democracy.
It allows citizens to have a say in who gets elected to political office and how local, regional, and national governments function.
In a free and fair election, voting determines who wins positions of power. Once in power, elected officials help to oversee how society is organized and public funds are allocated.
And that dynamic is crucial to ending extreme poverty.
There are still more than 700 million people who live in extreme poverty around the world, categorized as having less than $1.90 a day to buy food, pay rent, and afford everything else. If you expand the scope to $5.50 a day, nearly half the world’s population struggles to meet basic needs.
Elected officials who prioritize the material interests of the world’s poor make investments in housing, food, water and sanitation, health care, women’s rights, education, jobs training, and more.
Over time, poverty declines as a result of these political decisions.
Yet extreme poverty remains stubbornly high around the world and inequality is on the rise.
One reason is because of the dysfunctional nature of political systems. In fact, only 22 out of 167 countries were considered “full democracies” by the 2019 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.
More than twice as many countries are considered to have authoritarian governments, meaning power is heavily centralized and citizens can’t vote.
Countries with “full democracies” tend to have lower rates of extreme poverty, whereas some of the poorest and most unequal countries are considered “authoritarian.”
Denmark, rated as one of the best democracies in the world, has nearly eliminated poverty through welfare programs shaped by political decisions. In North Korea, considered the most authoritarian country in the world, most people live on around $2 to $3 per month.
In the US, considered a “flawed democracy” by the EIU Democracy Index, people living in poverty are often denied the right to vote, and nearly half the country is poor or low-income. (Organizations like HeadCount, which Global Citizen partnered with to engage 1 million young voters, are working to increase voter turnout by registering traditionally marginalized and underrepresented citizens across the country.)
Prior to the recent catastrophic explosion in Beirut that underscored Lebanon’s deep political dysfunction, nearly half of the country’s population lived below the poverty line. The vicious crackdown on protesters in Belarus following the contested presidential election on Aug. 9 follows a years-long rise in poverty. Brazil’s “flawed democracy,” meanwhile, has contributed to increasing poverty in recent years.
The United Nations' 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that the right to vote is key to achieving the full range of rights essential to all people — freedom of movement, speech, religion, association, and protest; freedom from violence and discrimination; access to food, water, a clean environment; and so on.
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government,” the declaration states. “This will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
In countries across the globe, voting restrictions and misinformation make it hard to vote and suppress the will of the people. In some places, citizens are violently threatened as they try to exercise this right.
“If your vote didn’t matter, certain institutions and politicians wouldn’t make it so difficult for you to vote,” Caleb Jackson, voting rights legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told Global Citizen. “If your vote didn’t matter, we wouldn’t see voter suppression.”
In cases of diminished democracy, the most vulnerable people are often harmed. Their human rights often go unrealized, and their exclusion gets reinforced.
That’s why it’s so crucial to exercise this right in future elections and demand that the will of the people be expressed — so that extreme poverty, and all of its causes and consequences, are eliminated.
Global Citizen and HeadCount have teamed up to engage young Americans to check their voting status, register, and vote. Through the work of this groundbreaking nonpartisan collaboration, we’re activating young people to get involved and spark change in their communities by expressing opinions at the ballot box. Learn how to register to vote, volunteer, and take action right now!