That’s when we choose our next president. Hanging in the balance are a deflated economy and a skittish stock market. We’re at war, and more Americans than ever say they lack confidence in their elected leaders.
There’s no question our new president will inherit a long list of challenges. Nor is there uncertainty about the importance of your vote.
Yet it shouldn’t take such high stakes to get our attention. The sacrifices made to secure our suffrage should command greater ownership in all times and circumstances.
Codified in 1870, the 15th Amendment secured the right to vote for every citizen, regardless of race or color. It was proposed in 1869, and the required 36 states had ratified it by 1870. While Frederick Douglass and other African-American leaders heralded the new law, it took nearly 100 years to be realized under Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Women’s suffrage in the United States was first proposed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention. Susan B. Anthony and Charlotte Woodward, who was 19 at the time, were there. When the 19th Amendment became law and women voted for the first time in 1920, Woodward – by then 81 – cast her first ballot.
In 1971, the 26th Amendment assured suffrage to those 18 and older. West Virginia Representative Jennings Randolph, who said those old enough to fight and die for our country should be able to vote, introduced the amendment in 1941 and championed it for three decades. The Vietnam War pressed Congress and state legislatures, and in 1968 President Lyndon Johnson urged Congress to propose the amendment. President Richard Nixon formally certified it in 1971.
These and others devoted their life’s work to earn and protect your right to cast your ballot. Walter Daniel, my college history professor, was so passionate about voting he believed it should be an obligation, not a right, and said failure to vote should be punishable by law.
Remember Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Charlotte Woodward and Jennings Randolph when you step into the election booth next week. They weren’t just thinking of themselves when they plied their passion and made their sacrifices.
They were thinking of you.
Their gift is a free and open electoral process. It demands our full attention regardless of the individuals and issues at stake.
It’s true that life’s greatest gifts are often invaluable. Who can put a price tag on the ability to cast an equal and undivided ballot with the same influence as every other, regardless of one’s race, creed or socioeconomic position?
Yet the value of a gift doesn’t diminish our need to say thank you. And while those who fought for our suffrage are long gone, we can express our appreciation by graciously receiving the product of their labors.
We do that by exercising our right to vote. Not just next Tuesday but in every election and ballot issue at the city, county, state and federal level.
Sort of wears you out just thinking about it all. Like I said, take it easy this weekend.