Paul W. Barada
Well, today’s the day. Today, is the day on which we get to exercise one of our most important privileges, the right to vote.
The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in years divisible by four became “Election Day” by Act of Congress in 1845. Why the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November was selected is, to say the least, interesting. According to Wikipedia, “In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as Election Day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.” Well, so much for any grand and glorious scheme for the selection of the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as Election Day. There’s nothing mystical about it, just a practical solution to a practical problem.
It would be a false assumption, however, to believe that everybody who could actually cast a ballot in this country in 1845. Restrictions on who could vote have littered our history. For example, in 1790, only white adult male property owners had the right to vote. Unpropertied white men, most women, and all people of color were denied the right to vote. After the Civil War, many states imposed literacy tests, poll taxes, and even religious tests to deny others the right to vote. Gradually, amendments to the Constitution of the United States eliminated most of the barriers to voting. In 1868, the 14th Amendment gave the right to vote to all persons born in or naturalized citizens of the United States. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to citizens without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude; this was the amendment that essentially gave former slaves the right to vote. Women were given the vote in 1920 via the 19th Amendment. The 24th Amendment, passed in 1964, eliminated the payment of a poll tax or any other tax as a bar to voting. The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1971, extended the privilege of voting to anyone years of age or older. So, as can be seen, the right to vote has not been a universal right since the country’s founding. It has taken nearly 200 years to enfranchise fully most American citizens.
Despite all the progress that has been made, the individual states are still attempting to deal with issues like voter rights among people who are homeless. Another issue is proof of identification, which is being debated. Some feel that requiring some sort of identification will disenfranchise the poor and minority groups, even though most states offer a free identification card for voting purposes. Even at that, some states require a mailing address to prove residency, rather than just listing a street corner, park, or shelter where an individual stays at night as a valid residence. Homeless individuals face other hurdles when it comes to voting. As recently as 10 years ago, the “Help America Vote Act” requires homeless people to provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number on their voter registration form.
The point of all the foregoing information is to highlight the complications that make voting in national elections more difficult. The other side of the coin, however, is the need to prevent voter fraud. Requiring a photo ID, especially when most states provide them at no charge, seems like a logical way to solve the problem. Several states offer free voter ID cards through local motor vehicle license branches. Some advocates for the poor and homeless contend, however, that requiring people to obtain a free photo ID card imposes an undue burden on them. The counter argument is, if the poor and the homeless can get to their respective polling places to vote, they should be able to get to a license branch for a free photo ID card.
Voter fraud has been a persistent problem since the earliest days of the republic. People who own homes in more than one location, for example, have frequently used multiple locations to cast multiple votes! Another common fraud is unscrupulous people claiming to be a registered vote who is still on the rolls, but who has actually passed away. Purging voter registration records is one way to solve the problem of dead people still casting a vote. It’s still possible for a dishonest person to claim to be a deceased registered voter and cast more than one fraudulent ballot.
The point is exercising one’s voting privilege is not something anyone should take lightly. The whole history of voting rights is an ongoing struggle to insure that only those who are entitled to vote are allowed to exercise that privilege – and that none who are legally entitled to vote are wrongfully denied that privilege. And yet, thousands upon thousands of registered voters won’t even bother to go to the polls today and cast their ballot in what could easily be one of the most important national elections in living memory.
Democracy works because free people freely elect those who will represent them both at home, in the state house, and in Washington. There’s still time! If you haven’t cast your ballot yet, exercise the privilege and vote!
That’s -30- for this week.