Hang around folks who study governance long enough and you will undoubtedly encounter the debate over whether our nation is a democracy or a republic.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

I often find myself hesitating before using either term, knowing that somewhere out there, lurking in the shadows ready to pounce, is an individual who feels strongly about it and will counter whichever word I’ve used. The most amusing part about it is there actually is no “wrong” on this one.

As Eugene Volokh explained in his 2105 Washington Post column, “A common definition of ‘republic’ is, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, ‘A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them’ – we are that. A common definition of ‘democracy’ is, ‘Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives’ – we are that, too.”

I bring this up because, obviously, here we are on the doorstep of another presidential election. And it seems that by whichever name we call ourselves, the basic idea at the heart of our nation is in danger of getting lost. This idea, of course, is that it’s we, the people, who decide our governance.

True, it took an awfully long time for the vote to be granted equally. People of color and people of my gender had to work hard to get the vote, and it is the ultimate, shameful irony that the Indigenous people of this land were not granted the vote in every state until 1962. But flawed as we may be, the ideal of a governance by the people has been there from the start. It is who we claim to be.

You can’t have a democracy or a republic without the right to vote.

This right is currently facing the most astounding, systematic and widespread assault history has ever witnessed, from purges of voter rolls to eliminating voting stations in target neighborhoods. This year, we have also seen the dismantling of our U.S. Postal System, illegal ballot boxes and even an early – and quite possibly illegal – end to the constitutionally mandated accurate and complete census, impacting not only financial assistance but the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives.

A fair and counted vote is more than a lofty idea or noble ambition – it’s the law. It’s our established foundation, long upheld and often written about by the Supreme Court. Take the words of Justice Hugo Black: “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”

I can respect a difference of opinion, a disagreement on policy and approach. There is value in having to argue your case and argue it well. However, if the only way to win is to cheat the rules, game the system and declare that unless you win the win doesn’t count – well, even the preschool set can tell you that’s “not on.” Our nation is too great an experiment, too noble an ideal, too wonderful a concept to be lost to ego, vanity and flat-out corruption.

Vote. Vote like your democracy (or republic) depends on it. Because it does.

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