Voters and Democracy: Basic principles

Voters and Democracy: Basic principles

Democracy provides a foundation for a house that must be constantly maintained by its dwellers to remain standing. The Founding Fathers laid the groundwork. Now the task is up to us — you and me — to make sure the United States stays a democracy!

In 2020, a group of concerned citizens joined together and formed Speak for Yourself! Vote! with the mission to inform and educate the Mid-Ohio Valley about how our government works on the local, state and federal level and how citizens can be involved in making democracy work.

In the context of this great purpose, we will be presenting “Living Democracy: Energizing Citizens,” a six-part informational series on our democracy, how our government works at municipal, county, state and federal levels and what citizens can do to participate. Democracy works only when opposing sides are working together. Come walk with us.

Citizens can be apathetic about their government if they are unsure of how the process works or they feel left out. Most people are introduced to the history of democracy when they are in school. By the time we are adults, we often don’t remember the origins of the democracy we all take for granted and how fragile this experiment in government is. The group Speak for Yourself! Vote! hopes if citizens understand democracy depends on their participation, they might fully commit to the political process.

History shows us the origin of many ideas used by the Founders as they wrote the Constitution. American democracy is rooted in the age-old desire to throw off absolute control by a monarchy. On June 15, 1215, King John of England was forced by rebelling subjects to sign the Magna Carta, and the crown gave up the right to tax indiscriminately and perform trials without a jury. The Mayflower Compact was signed in 1620 by the Pilgrims landing off the coast of Cape Cod and was the first document to establish self-government, religious freedom and rule of law in the new land. Colonists watched the workings of the Iroquois Confederation in the 1720s, which was made up of six nations that used a representative government. In Colonial times, the Colonies experimented with different forms of democratic government in a fledgling America.

The Boston Tea Party was a protest by colonists to declare “no taxation without representation!” King George III responded with troops and more controls, leading to patriot resentment. Eventually, the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 and served to unify the colonists. The Declaration resulted from collaboration between diverse minds and backgrounds, some at great odds with one another, but emphasized the people’s desire for independence from Britain. Representatives gathered together, appealed to God with pure “intentions … in the name, and by Authority of the good people of these colonies.”

The words, “We the People” introduced modern democracy to the world, but a republic survives only if citizens are actively watching and involved. To create their ideal vision, founders applied concepts from history. For example, the Enlightenment, which warned that power must be divided and shared to preserve democracy. Thus, we have three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Power is further divided by states with individual state constitutions operating within federal law. Our entire system has checks and balances, all of which rely on informed and involved voters.

The basic principles of American democracy are as follows:

1. Power rests with people

2. Government and citizens must obey the law and the Constitution

3. Power is separated, government divided into three branches

4. Through checks and balances, each branch checks the power of the others

5. The courts determine whether government acts in accord with the Constitution

6. Power is further divided among federal, state and local government.

While the Constitution did set up boundaries to frame America, citizens always had different ideas about what was just and unjust.

Without diverse involvement and working together for common goals, we would have no amendments to the original Constitution, such as the end of slavery and the right of women to vote. Through 246 years, 27 amendments have been added.

If we are to thrive as a nation, these principles must be understood and embraced by committed citizens participating in their democracy: Speak for Yourself! Vote! When you speak for yourself, you preserve democracy.

Come join us at 7 p.m., April 25, at the McDonough Center to hear Rachel Coyle speak on “How the Ohio Statehouse Works.” Look for a calendar of events and YouTubes on our Facebook page, Speak for Yourself!


Betsy Cook, is a member of Speak for Yourself! Vote! She can be reached at

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