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Appeal to Vote

November 19, 2012

Published here on September 3, 2012

I’m trying not to be that guy. I’m trying to avoid making the comment that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about politics. I’m trying not to say that one vote really can make a difference. I know you’ve heard that before. Instead, I’m going to give you a history lesson. Yes, in voting.

At the beginning of our country, the only people who could vote were white men who owned property—in other words, the rich ones. If you want to talk about the upper class influencing politics, look no further than the early 1800s. Literally, the only people who had any say at all were rich white men. Thanks to groups of lobbyists (yes, they existed back then too), things progressed towards all white men having the right to vote by the time of the Civil War. Legally, at least. There were still poll taxes, literacy tests and even religious tests that prevented most men from casting their vote. We were far from equality, but we were moving forward.

Next, the Civil War came along and after it the 14th and 15th Amendments. This gave black men the right to vote as well. Again, this was only a legal formality. Poll taxes, threats of violence and hiding the locations of the polls were all ways in which the voting process could be controlled. So still, most of the influence came from rich white men. Not much had changed, but it was another step.

The next 100 years marked slow progression towards equality when it came to voting rights in a series of breakthroughs. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and women could vote. In 1924, Native Americans became citizens and they too could vote. Poll taxes were abolished in 1964, so monetary means could no longer be used to discriminate. In 1965, immigration and naturalization laws were changed so that Asian Pacific Americans could now easily go to the polls.

I have already had several people tell me they aren’t planning on voting in this upcoming election. They have their reasons which range from practical (“I will be too busy”) to ideological (“I don’t like either candidate,”) but all of them are refusing to cast their ballot in November. “Do they have any idea how privileged they are?” I wonder when I hear this.

A recent New York Times article pointed out that we are 139th in voter participation out of 172 democracies in the world and dead last among the G-8. Honestly I just want to sit people down and explain to them how much this country has gone through in terms of voting rights. Some people say that if you don’t have an opinion, then you shouldn’t vote. I understand that. But based on what the voting process has gone through, I feel as if everyone has a responsibility to get up, go research and form an opinion.

Do you remember the Florida recounts of the 2000 election? Do you remember how big a deal they were? All that says to me is that our government is taking extreme caution so that the elections are fair. Argue all you want about the proposed voter ID laws, minority inequality, and ACORN, but you can’t deny that our government tries. They really try to honor the concepts our founding fathers put into the Constitution. So you can’t use cynicism as an excuse to not vote. If anything, at this point in time, you have the least right of all Americans in history to complain about voting fairness.

What I’m trying to get across to you is that now, more than ever, you have the opportunity to make your opinion known to the rest of America. Voting is the single best way to show that not only do you have an opinion, but that you care enough to express it. And please don’t tell me you don’t care—it’s too heartbreaking.

I’m not going to end this with some quote about America being the best country ever or the phrase “God bless America,” but I am going to ask you to reflect back upon history and consider whether you feel as if it is your duty to cast a ballot this November. I believe that it’s mine.

See you at the polls.

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