Monday, October 6, 2014

Voting Rights for Everybody

Norman Rockwell, "Election Day" / flickr
Two Saturdays ago I did something I have never done before. I knocked on 40 doors asking people to please vote in the mid-term elections. It was an informative day. I met all kinds of people—different walks of life. Some retired, some well heeled and some on food stamps. Almost everybody I met wants the best for South Carolina. But it did not matter who they were—we all have a great privilege in this country of having our say at the ballot box. It hasn’t always been this way.

In the days of our Founding Fathers only white, male and wealthy could vote. A little later any Caucasian male who owned 50 acres of property or had taxable income could vote.  After the slaves were freed four states allowed those freed could vote. Women could not vote in this country until August 1920 when the Nineteenth amendment was added to the Constitution. African Americans were forced to jump through all sorts of hoops to try to vote for years. States erected the barriers of literacy tests and poll taxes to deny votes to people of color.  But President Lyndon Johnson in August 1965 signed the Voting Rights Act. This action prohibited states and their political subdivisions from imposing voting qualifications that deny the right of United States citizens to vote because of race, color or membership in a language minority group. Millions of Americans of color were denied the right to vote until 1965.

90 million of our citizens never vote. Today we learn that new voting restrictions can be found in 22 states. Voting lines are getting longer. States that have seen increase in minority turnouts have seen the most cumbersome restrictions added to voting rights in different parts of the country.  Looks like a lot of people making the rules in states are scared if every registered voter went to the polls.

Voting ought to be easy—not hard. Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado has led a movement where every registered voter automatically receives a mail-in ballot. Voters in that state can cast their vote at centers and not just precincts. The Governor has also expanded early voting and same-day voter registration.

What do we have to fear from letting all our registered citizens vote? Democracy says that everybody over 18 who is a citizen should have the right to vote. Voting is not a privilege—it is a right. When we erect barriers to the disabled, the poor who have no transportation and those that work difficult hours we are drawing lines that are at odds with our democracy. In Texas lifelong voter Sammie Bates complained that it took her a while to save up the $42.00 needed to order her birth certificate, which she needed to get a free ID. “You’re going to put the money where you feel the need is most urgent...We couldn’t eat the birth certificate, and we couldn’t pay the rent with our birth certificate.” There is something very wrong with the voter restrictions so many states are demanding this fall.

Mid-term elections are not as popular since we are not electing a President. But we are voting on who will be our Governor, who will represent us in the Senate and Congress and local elections. Every citizen should study this list of names and make up their minds on who they will vote for. It is hard not to be swayed by all the money that has been pumped into elections from both parties. And it is hard not to become disenchanted with our voting system today. Yet we, the people, can still make a profound difference in our state and nation if we exercise our God-given right to vote.

When Benjamin Franklin emerged from Constitution Hall, a woman asked him, “What kind of a government are you giving us?” A republic, Madam if you can keep it.” Keeping the republic strong is the task of every citizen. When you stand before the voting booth this is your chance to help keep our democracy strong. Exercise your right—it was paid for by the work and prayers and dreams and blood of a great many people. All these sacrifices by so many do not deserve to be wasted. 


                       --RogerLovette /

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