Election primaries are almost over in the several states, and in November we will have an important general election. All elections are important, of course, but I will be very interested to see the results of this one.
As good citizens we have a right and a responsibility to vote, and I hope we exercise that responsibility seriously and wisely.
Over the course of our existence as a republic, we have made steady progress in expanding voting rights. Also, as we strive for “a more perfect union” we have made advances in many other areas of communal life. Of course, we shall never achieve political nirvana. The key is to work peacefully and patiently with one another. We must respect tradition, but we should also be open to new ideas and potentially better ways of governing ourselves.
The right to vote was not gained easily, and that right to has been extended to more and more citizens during the life of our republic. In the early days only men of property could vote, and their ballot was not secret. Voter intimidation was not uncommon. Later the secret ballot was introduced, and the right to vote was extended to almost all male citizens. Nevertheless, certain impediments remained in the form of strict residential and registration requirements, and artificial barriers were often used to restrict the vote of blacks and other minorities. Over time, that situation changed. Women were given the right to vote less than a century ago. After that, the Federal government and courts gradually moved to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, had equal access to the polls, and residential and registration requirements were gradually liberalized.
Today it is very easy to register and vote. In some states you have same day registration and voting. Other states may have you register as voter at the same time you receive or renew your automobile license. Voting by mail is becoming more and more common. If you are truly desirous of voting, there should be no serious impediment to your exercise of that right anywhere in the United States.
Of course, not everyone who is eligible to vote chooses to do so. The participation rate is sometimes very low, thus during every political campaign you see massive “get out the vote” campaigns by the contending parties. After each election there is often a charge of skullduggery by the opposition. Even when true, it is rarely of such an extent to determine the outcome of an election.
Along with the right and responsibility to vote, the voting citizen has a duty to be informed about the candidates and the issues. It is not easy. A citizen entering the polling place is often confronted with a bewildering list of candidates for various offices, federal, state, and local. Even the most conscientious voter cannot keep track of it all. The best course is to become as conversant as possible with candidates and issues and then confining one’s voting to the particular offices and issues about which he/she is informed. That strategy is much better than casting one’s vote blindly or along strict party lines.
A serious debate is now going on about voter identification. Many states have imposed or are attempting to impose a requirement that voters must have an official identification, either a driver’s license or the equivalent, before they cast their ballot. The courts have not been consistent in their rulings on the constitutional validity of these laws. The Democrats are often on one side of the debate and the Republicans on the other. The Democrats say the voter identification tends to suppress voter participation by blacks or other disadvantaged groups. Also, they insist that voter ID is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist, and there is little evidence that voting fraud is going on. The Republicans argue that citizens must use some sort of identification in countless instances of everyday life – to cash a check, to make a purchase, to drive a vehicle, etc. As for those few citizens that do not have a driver’s license, an alternative method of identification would be made available. Persons wanting to vote would find it easy to do so. And, referring to the need for voter identification, its supporters contend that there are frequent instances of voter fraud – persons voting in another’s name, voting in more than on precinct, residents of the local cemetery being registered as voters, registering non-citizens to vote, etc. The debate goes on.
Of even more concern to some political observers is the massive recruitment of uninformed voters on election day, sometimes to be taken by bus to the polling stations and casting their votes as directed. The persons being recruited are often the same persons that you see in “man-in-the-street interviews”, citizens who frequently do not know the names of our current President and Vice President and in a multiple-choice questionnaire would probably identify General Charles Cornwallis as a one-time Governor of Alabama..
Yes, citizens, exercise your precious right to vote. But there is one important caveat. If you do not know for whom or for what you are voting,