Meghan Markle’s vote in the 2020 presidential election sparked backlash. Here’s why

As ballots are being counted to determine whether Republican incumbent President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden will become the next president of the United States, one particular voter’s decision to participate in the electoral process has become its own specific kind of controversy — that of Meghan Markle, whose husband happens to be a member of the British royal family.

As Town & Country reported on Nov. 3, 2020, a source close to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry confirmed that the Duchess of Sussex, who is still a U.S. citizen, planned to cast her vote in the 2020 election. It was later confirmed that the Duchess of Sussex actually voted by mail before Nov. 3, 2020, per the Daily Mail — a method that has dramatically increased in the 2020 presidential race due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with roughly 73 percent of voters opting to send in their ballots rather than going to the polls in person, according to The Washington Post. 

But what is the significance of Meghan Markle’s participation in what, for other U.S. citizens like her, is simply an exercise in civic duty? And why has it sparked a backlash? Read on to find out.

Meghan Markle's historic vote is receiving backlash

As OK! magazine noted, Meghan Markle’s ballot makes her the first royal in history to vote in an American election. She and her husband, Prince Harry, stepped down from their roles and duties as senior officials of the British royal family in March 2020, but Meghan has retained her title as the Duchess of Sussex, and is for all intents and purposes, still considered a member of the British royal by marriage.

Markle never revoked her American citizenship, and as Insider noted in January 2020, her marriage to Prince Harry did not automatically grant her British citizenship, which is the legal standard in the U.K. So despite the fact that the Duchess of Sussex happens to have a British royal title, her citizenship status as an American is, by law, unrelated to that fact.

The logistical realities of her status as a U.S. citizen — which granted her the right to vote in the 2020 presidential election — hasn’t deterred those critical of her decision to cast a ballot in the first place. As OK! magazine reported, a number of critics took to social media to chastise the Duchess of Sussex for exercising her legal right to vote.

Meghan Markle knows 'what it's like to feel voiceless'

The ensuing backlash that arose after sources confirmed Meghan Markle’s decision to vote in the U.S. presidential election is fueled, in large party, by a long-held tradition that members of the British royal family abstain from involvement and/or activism in general political discourse, per the Daily Mail

“I cannot believe Meghan Markle voted. She married Prince Harry & that means you follow Royal protocol,” remarked one user on Twitter.

Despite the controversy Meghan’s decision to vote has incited, it seems like the Duchess of Sussex won’t be backing away from political participation — a sentiment she emphasized as recently as August 2020, per Marie Claire. “I know what it’s like to have a voice, and also what it’s like to feel voiceless,” Meghan’s statement read. “I also know that so many men and women have put their lives on the line for us to be heard. And that opportunity, that fundamental right, is in our ability to exercise our right to vote and to make all of our voices heard.”

A spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex also relayed the following to Insider:  “Part of being an active member of society is to take part in the democratic process. So encouraging people to get involved in politics is something that is important.”

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have participated in politics before

Meghan Markle’s decision to cast her ballot by an early mail-in vote is far from the first time she’s participated in the political sphere. As Vanity Fair noted in November 2020, both Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, have spent the months leading up to Election Day actively voicing their support for numerous causes within the realm of activism. Among these include remarks the Duchess of Sussex made in a video in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May 2020, in which she emphasized her belief that “Black lives matter,” especially as a woman of color herself.

Meghan’s video, which was made as a virtual address to the graduating class of a high school based in her hometown of Los Angeles, urged viewers to participate in activism relating to social justice. “We are seeing people stand in solidarity, we are seeing communities come together and to uplift,” said the Duchess of Sussex at the time. “And you are going to be part of this movement.”

Alongside Harry, the Duchess of Sussex also spoke about the importance of voting in a special produced in conjunction with Time magazine in September 2020. “Every four years, we’re told, ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime,” Meghan stated during the program. “But this one is. When we vote our values are put into action, and our voices are heard.”

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