COMMENTARY: People have died and been beaten and jailed for your right to vote. No, not just military people — plain ordinary folks who understood how powerful the vote is.
The names Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney no longer ring a bell for most folks. They were three civil rights worker killed in Mississippi in 1964 for helping African Americans register to vote. Their deaths helped propel the Civil Rights Act to passage that same year.
No one remembers Alice Paul either. She was beaten and arrested in front of the White House. She, and those arrested with her, joined in a hunger strike and were force-fed. Eventually after a public outcry they were released, and President Wilson came out in favor of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Then, in 1972, in a remarkable show of national unity, the 26th Amendment passed in less than four months, the swiftest ratification of any of the amendments. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” struck a chord. Not to mention the fact that by age 18 most people are paying taxes. With that passage we reached universal suffrage of all adult citizens.
Yet today voting is under attack from all sides, it seems. Apathy is the No. 1 problem. Voter turnout in 2008 was at a high, still only 57.1 of the voting eligible population. Then it fell to 36.4 in 2014. This issue can only be solved by education, reminding everyone that voting is not only a right under our Constitution, but the civic duty of every citizen who enjoys the freedoms of the United States.
We all have a voice in choosing our leaders. It’s up to us to use it.
Harder to pin down is the growing notion that not everyone should vote. It’s been around for awhile, evident in calls for stricter laws governing voting, and in some cases advocating for things like literacy tests. In 2010 Tom Tancredo made such a proposal despite the fact that such tests were banned in 1964 in the Voting Rights Act.
Returning to property owners only has been suggested as well. Talk show host Michael Savage even went so far as to suggest that those who receive government benefits or welfare should not be allowed to vote.
The common thread in all of this is the fact that these calls are all coming from the right. They mean well most of the time, thinking that they are somehow protecting the vote. What they are really doing, to use an old phrase, is cutting off their noses to spite their face.
Here is why, in limiting the votes of students, the elderly, and the poor they are losing votes. It’s a mistake to think that groups with one socioeconomic status are going to vote as a monolith. It doesn’t work that way. Wealthy people don’t vote as a group. Why would that be true at the bottom of the scale?
One of the poorest counties in the nation is Owsley, Kentucky, yet it is 95 percent Republican and has the highest percentage of residents on SNAP in the country.
Cutbacks across the nation in early voting affect seniors the most heavily, yet that too is a strong part of the Republican base. Even cutbacks in the number of polling places, as happened in Arizona during their primary, can affect Republican votes. Most of those polling places were in Hispanic neighborhoods. While it can’t be substantiated, it’s not hard to imagine that Ted Cruz lost more than a few votes.
Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s remember when the right to vote for everyone was a given. Preached at us by our parents, the League of Women Voters, and yes, both parties.
Today, as this remarkable election continues, it’s time to return to those values. How do we do it? Simple: Consider the act of voting revolutionary, and just do it.
Anderson, of Farmington, is a past Democratic Party county officer and member of the party’s state central committee. She has been active in several political campaigns. Today she follows politics avidly as a concerned citizen. She has been proudly voting since 1972.