Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cast Your Vote! Get it done!

I was thinking about putting out this post a little later, but the current President of the United States voted today, the first standing President to do so, probably to convince the electorate that it's a perfectly appropriate thing to do. I suppose his opponents will wait to vote till after Election Day, out of sheer spite. (Sorry--I've been reading a lot of Molly Ivins lately. I might be channeling her.)

I too have already voted. In California it's been possible for a week or so now. I have the possibility of jury duty next week and I've been clearing my calendar a bit. It helped that last weekend, my friends and I were assisting their 98 year old father in voting his absentee ballot. If you don't live in my state, you might be shocked at how many propositions we have to sort through on top of everything else, so I was pleased to learn a bit more as we read the various parts of the ballot aloud to him. (He's still sharp, but he doesn't see so well now.)

Although I think my liberal bias is probably pretty obvious, I'm not just talking to liberals when I use this post to enjoin you to get your vote in. I get really tired of people who are so above the process that they don't think they'll bother. Even if for some reason you think it doesn't matter who  the Commander in Chief of the country is, there's plenty else that's going to make a difference in your life on the ballot. I live in a largely liberal town for example, and the City Council tends to ride somewhat left of center. But if you think that means they are all on the same page when it comes to the issues of our community, you could not be more wrong.

Quite apart from who, though, I think we can all get a bit complacent about our right to vote, and to take it for granted. In fact, as I learned on the Lawrence O'Donnell show tonight from his guest Mo Rocca, our right to vote is not explicit in the original Constitution, it is only implied.

I thought I'd list the chronology of suffrage in the U.S.:

White men without property gained the vote in a process that gradually gave them the vote between 1820 and 1850.

State and federal citizenship upheld for all people or naturalized into the U.S. by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

The Fifteenth Amendment then logically upholds the right to vote for non-white men in 1870.
Freedmen of South Carolina, 1868

It isn't until 1913 and the 17th amendment that U.S. Senators are elected by the people, rather than their state legislatures. (Looking at you, electoral college.)

Yeah, we've gotten this far without it occuring to the powers that be that women should be included in the vote. So, not till 1920 do we get the 19th amendment.

Native Americans had to wait another four years--1924. And sometimes a lot longer.

Princess Watawoso, casting the first vote on Indian Island, 1955

Not until 1961 were the residents of the District of Columbia allowed to vote in the presidential elections. Now we're talking about within my lifetime.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests as an obstruction to voting, which had been a means of disenfranchising the votes of the poor and particularly poor blacks.

Discriminating against the poor in another way was eliminated by the 24th amendment, which prohibited the poll tax.

The 26th amendment, in the Vietnam era, reasoned that if you were old enough to go to war, you were old enough to vote. Minimum voting age went from 21 to 18 in 1971.

Residents of Washington DC were restored their rights to vote for their own local government in 1973. Still at loggerheads with the feds over other issues, though. Congress retains the power to overthrow these laws should it see fit.

Finally, although, probably not really finally, we have the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which guarantees voting rights to military and other citizens residing overseas at the time of elections. (* I originally wrote this as the Uninformed and Overseas Citizens, more proof that they are just like everybody else.)

As you can see, the trend so far is towards greater and greater suffrage. We've still got some issues around Washington DC, Puerto Rico and other places with complicated histories. You can also see that just because it becomes obvious that some group should be able to vote, the next group seeking to be treated like full citizens don't just get a free pass. It's always a fight.

Neither of my grandmothers were born with the right to vote, though both of them were among the most politically interested women I know--on opposite ends of the political spectrum, too. They both were eager to argue politics with anyone and they passed that on to their kids. Arguing politics was actually how my parents got to know each other.

A few years ago, I did a little walking tour of London. Though it was intermittently wet, we didn't mind, as we had a very engaging tour guide who knew her stuff. Eventually, she took us to the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, which was put up in honor of her militant struggle for women's suffrage in England. Our guide said that knowing Pankhurst's fight made her angry at voter apathy. She found it hard to understand why women would take their vote for granted, knowing the history.
So let me take it a step further. If any of your ancestors were women, or renters, or black, or Native American, or poor, or in the overseas military, I think you kind of owe them the time it takes to vote, don't you? Because you know there is someone with views very different from your own who will be very happy if you don't.



  1. Thanks so much for this--the history, the inspiring context, the reminder itself. My folks voted early, and so have many friends and acquaintances. I may vote early, but I do love the thrill of walking to my voting place on Election Day, participating in that, getting my sticker, watching the returns roll in. This year, I have all kinds of trepidation about all that, but also all kinds of hope.

  2. I like to vote in person too, and the whole ritual of it. But I kept moving and ending up on the wrong side of town on election day and somewhat accidentally became a permanent absentee voter. Which is just as well, really. One less thing to remember.

  3. Thanks, Seana, so well said, as usual. I enjoyed reading all the facts too, so interesting. - Janet

  4. Thanks, Janet. All easily available on Wikipedia of course. But I write this stuff to educate myself as much as anybody.

  5. thanks for share.