Speak your mind by casting your vote
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” — Thomas Jefferson
In the past several weeks we have been bombarded with political ads and debates trying to influence us to vote for one candidate or another. It’s enough to affect everyone- in a good or bad way.
Welcome to the funny season.
In another two weeks American voters will head to the polls to elect our next president as well as other various representatives.
Although voting is a fundamental right afforded to us as Americans, it’s sad to say that not everyone will exercise that right.
In fact over the past 46 presidential elections, an average of only 61 percent have turned out to vote.
The highest percentage of turnout was 81.8 percent in the election of 1876. In that election Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuel J. Tilden by the narrowest of margins — 185-184 electoral votes. Tilden had received over 250,000 more popular votes, but there was a dispute over the validity of 20 electoral votes that were ultimately awarded to Hayes. Thus Tilden lost out.
The lowest percentage of turnout was 48.9 percent in the election of 1924 when Calvin Coolidge beat John Davis by a 382-136 electoral vote count.
One reason people don’t vote is because they don’t think their vote will mean a difference.
While that may be true in a national election where millions of people vote, there have been many examples of how one vote made the difference that ultimately affected millions of people.
For example, in 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
In 1776, one vote resulted in English being established as the national language of America instead of German.
In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from being impeached.
As was mentioned before, in the election of 1876, Rutherford B Hayes was elected president by one electoral vote.
One vote in 1923 gave Adolph Hitler the leadership of the Nazi Party in Germany.
And of course, closer to home, one vote in the local Republican Primary Election for Livingston County District Attorney resulted in a tie and the subsequent appointment of one individual. This resulted in a three-way race for the seat which will ultimately be decided in two weeks.
Even though we may take the right to vote for granted, it wasn’t always a right guaranteed to all Americans.
In fact in 1787 the passage of the U.S. Constitution only gave the right to vote to white male property owners, age 21 and over.
Then, from 1807-1843 a series of acts were passed that changed voting requirements so that all white men 21 and older could vote.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed the right to vote to all men 21 or older regardless of race or ethnic background.
Then in 1920, in a revolutionary move, the 19th Amendment was passed that gave women 21 and older the right to vote, which posed a problem to those women who might not admit to their age.
And, finally in 1971 the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age to 18.
How we cast our ballots is as diverse as how we acquired the right to do so. Originally we voted by paper ballots. This system employs uniform official ballots on which the names of all candidates and issues are printed. Voters record their choices, in private, by marking the boxes next to the candidate or issue of choice and they dropped them into a sealed ballot box.
In-person paper ballot voting was used in the presidential election of 1792.
You checked the person of your choice and your vote was registered. You used your fingers to guide your pencil and the resulting vote was effortless. Not much to write home about or, for that matter, not much to write a column about.
Then, in 1892, the first official use of a lever type voting machine, known as the “Myers Automatic Booth” was used in Lockport. Four years later, they were employed on a large scale in Rochester and soon were adopted statewide.
In fact, in my hometown of Jamestown, a company called Automatic Voting Machine employed thousands of people in the manufacturing of automatic voting machines. By 1930, lever machines were installed in virtually every major city in the US.
By the 1960’s well over half of the nation’s votes were registered on these systems.
Mechanical lever machines were used by over 20 percent of registered voters as of the 1996 Presidential election.
Because these machines are no longer manufactured, the trend is to replace them with a computer-based mark-sense or directly recording electronic system.
Recently, many states have gone to alternate means of recording votes. Some states employ the “Punch Card” system whereby voters are given a punch device to punch holes in the cards opposite the candidate or ballot issue choice.
Who can forget the famous questionable “hanging chads” in the Presidential election of 2000 when, in Florida, several ballots came under the scrutiny of the court systems. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that favored George Bush over Al Gore even though Gore received more popular votes.
That decision was so controversial I remember seeing bumper stickers four years later proclaiming- “Re-elect Gore in 2004”.
In Livingston County we now use the direct recording system. We are given a ballot and a pencil and are instructed to sit in an area separated by cardboard walls where we can fill in the circle next to the candidate or issue of our choice.
It reminds me of the endless Regents exams we had to take in high school. Our ballot is then fed into a machine to be recorded.
Whatever the method of voting is, we have, as our right and duty, the opportunity to cast our ballot for the person of our choice.
Some people may ask, “why should I vote in the first place?”
Voting is a way to speak your mind and let your voice be heard. It’s a way of letting your elected representatives know how you really feel. It is a powerful tool to control our government. One vote really does count.
Another reason we vote is that our children depend on us to represent their voices too. Because they can’t vote, we have to do it for them. This is how we make our concerns about safety, schools, our environment, housing and other issues heard.
When we vote, we vote for ourselves and for our children and their futures.
Voting also can change our communities. When we vote we can actually see results.
Voting is a way to honor our past and the people who fought for that right for themselves as well as for us.
And, finally, voting gives us credibility to make our concerns a top priority to our elected officials.
As far as which muscles we use to vote, there are very few needed to sit down and fill in a circle.
The most important muscle we need to use is not a muscle at all. It’s that thing between our ears. It’s our brain.
By being aware of the issues that are important to us and by knowing where candidates stand on these issues, we can be more in control of who we elect and where our futures lie.
Be informed, be involved and, most important, cast your vote on election day. The only way a democracy works is if citizens like you, young and old, are active participants.