updated 11/3/2004 3:09:43 PM ET 2004-11-03T20:09:43

As a part of our coverage of Decision 2004, MSNBC.com and NBC News asked our audience, "What does democracy mean to you?" Responses ranged from criticism of the current electoral process to heart-felt tributes to free speech and the right to vote.

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Dana Casterlin of Boston, Massachusetts:

To me, democracy is about three main aspects: choice, tolerance and equality. In our great nation, choice is abundant. We choose to vote, we choose the candidate who garners our vote, we choose to voice dissent towards our leaders, we choose to protest against goverment decisions, we choose what we believe in, and how we will act on those beliefs.

And, of course, since we all have the right to choose, we all must have tolerance for other's decisions. We may not agree with certain choices that are made, and we can show our displeasure at such choices, but we tolerate them nonetheless.

Tolerance, however, is beginning to lessen in terms of democracy because equality in our electoral process is diminishing as well. The electoral college prevents true democracy, and this ancient system must be abolished to experience a democratic state to the utmost.

If the electoral college is fair and equal, then why do candidates spend 90 percent of the election in battleground states? What about New York and California, what about Texas and Mississippi? Just because these states always have a majority voting either Democrat or Republican, respectively, they are ignored.

The people of these states are not equal to those who live in Florida, Michigan or Ohio. Let's incorporate the last aspect of democracy into our system, let's combine choice and tolerance with true equality in our electoral process. Let each state have the same time with each candidate and feel motivated to get involved and feel counted.

Living in Boston, I cannot tell you how many times yesterday I heard people saying 'well it doesn't matter if I vote because John Kerry will win Massachusetts.' This is the inherent problem with the electoral college, it encourages laziness, it encourages disinterest in politics and it hampers equal treatment of citizens by treating them as 'Texans' or 'Iowans' instead of AMERICANS.

Let's encourage the unity, let's encourage democracy and excitement in politics- let's abolish the electoral college, embrace true democracy and gain back our respect within the world.

(Nov 1.) Dick Middleton from Belmont, Ohio:

Democracy to me means just what is being refelected to my eyes from my television set as I am writing this.

I see men, women and even young people who are on the street in all kinds of weather and in wheel chairs as well as running shoes in rain soaked slickers as well as winter parkas. All of them have this one thing in common. They are about to or have just finished casting their vote for the candidate of their choice. And they do it with swelling pride and some with a tear in their eye when they feel that swell of personal pride that they are a part of this thing called "democracy."

As for me., I sit here at my computer typing this and sending it out for all the world to see and NO ONE, NO ONE will effect my choice of words nor the pride I am feeling as I see these scenes transpire before my humble American eyes.

May God bless all those who vote today. And may God bless our DEMOCRACY.

(Oct 30) Marisa Totino of The Bronx, New York:

As an 18-year-old, I am fully aware of the apathy of young Americans. It saddens me, especially because much of my generation is apathetic, that many people do not understand the distinct excellence and beauty of American democracy.

The mere fact that our democracy was created over 200 years ago, and that the essence of it has not changed, is not only an anomaly but a beacon of hope. This hope, in age of so much horror, makes me proud because I understand that through our democracy we will not falter.

Our democracy is everlasting because it provides natural rights and liberties that enable citizens to not only participate in their government, but dictate, especially through voting, how we, as a nation, want our rights and liberties to be exercised.

American democracy is a system in which both politicians and citizens engage in debate and discussion; this enables a nation to prosper because democratic principles are the foundation of a strong, effective country.

(Oct. 28) Christi Graves of Milan, Nebraska wrote:

Democracy to me is the most precious gift I was born with. Without it, I can't imagine what kind of place this would be.

It means I can live where I want be as educated as I please. It means if someone does ill toward my family I can yell all I want without the fear of being put into jail. It means I am free to speak, feel, worship, believe and bear arms.

Democracy is one of the things we as Americans should hold most dear! It means the police or military work for us not against us. It means we have the power with just one vote to change the direction of America and possibly the world. It means that we should be smart about issues of the candidates running for office and not pick one issue to zone in on because it is easier.

It is our duty as Americans to educate ourselves and to listen to all sides not close our ears to any of the rhetoric on Capitol Hill. We owe it to our children and their children to be informed and alert and not pick our presidents because they have a flamboyant personality. We live in America and to me she is beautiful, strong and loving. If we stay alert as voters she will always be free!

(Oct. 26) Katherine Simic of Wickliffe, Ohio wrote:

There is nothing more important to me than the freedoms I enjoy as an American. I know that there have been many men and women who had died to give me the freedoms I have today, freedoms like the right to vote, freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble to voice our disagreements with our political representatives.

I was very moved when I had visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. To actually be able to walk in the White House where our presidents had trod before me. To see be able to see the actual Constitution of these United States, the Bill of Rights made me marvel anew at the foresight that our founding fathers had when they wrote those documents. They remain the foundations of the best form of government in the world today.

I marvel, too, at the fact that I'm entitled to due process of the law regardless of my economic status, race, creed or color., or because I can practice any religion I choose without being harassed by the government.

On September 11, 2001, those freedoms and our love for this country was very evident everywhere I turned. We have a strong spirit in this country that can't be matched anywhere. 9/11/01 was the first time I saw people joined together in one common bond for the good of our fallen brothers and sisters in those twin towers. It was good for the world to see how we pull together in times of great turmoil.

What saddens me most is that some of our rights were removed after that tragic event in the name of security. Hopefully we'll be able to regain them again.

Check back all this week at democracy.msnbc.com for more of our essay winners. Or submit your own below:

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