At Your Service: Oct. 29, 2008

It has been almost two years in the making and taken us on a journey that will fill pages in future history books. The long campaign will end when the presidential election is decided next week.
Much of what has transpired has not been our proudest moments. We have seen gender and racially biased accusations leveled at candidates. Focusing on what associates said or did, on how female candidates were attired and a host of other unrelated topics, real issues too often took a backseat. In a host of appearances on television shows and characterizations in various media the candidates have been satirized. While satire is a part of long standing election traditions, on more than one occasion it crossed the line, moving into the inappropriate and perhaps even slanderous.
We laughed at much of what we saw, but the very real issues we face and the serious consequences of this election are not a laughing matter.
Wars on two continents, changing environmental conditions and economic woes at home and around the world have given us much to think about. In Iraq and Afghanistan the lives of American and allied soldiers are on the line and there are very different points of view about how and when to bring them home. In the next decade, very real solutions must be found and executed to alleviate an impending ecological crisis. The financial situation is monopolizing the headlines and people are feeling the economic pinch. The solutions and out comes of these and other critical issues hinge on the leadership approach taken by the man who will be out next president.
Our nation was formed when the Colonists decided that they were tired of taxation without representation. While there were many reasons that they were dissatisfied with their government, a central issue was voting rights. Long battles were fought to gain independence from Great Britain and when the dust settled they created a Constitution that gave the right to vote to every man.
Linguistically, man was the term used to describe citizens. It was taken literally in the execution of voting laws. While a few unmarried and widowed women landowners were allowed to vote initially in some states, this “error in judgment” was soon corrected. By 1856, the voting rights of all women had been suspended and/or severely restricted.
Just short of the one-hundred year mark, the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted and the 15th amendment gave the right to vote to newly freed the slaves. The eager participation in the elective process by the emancipated people of color was a major factor that led to retractions we refer to as the Jim Crow laws. Within 40 years, the right to vote would be rescinded in many states.
Not coincidentally, those same 40 more years would pass before the laws were amended to give women the unrestricted right to vote. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, many fought and some paid the ultimate price for the right. In 1920, women across the nation were allowed to vote in the presidential election; the year that people of color were stripped of the same right in many states.
With the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, for the first time in the nation’s history, every citizen, no matter their color or gender, was given the protected right to vote. For over 200 years, hundreds of thousands of people died to ensure universal suffrage in these United States. No matter who you are, there is someone who died so that you could have the right to vote.
On Tuesday we have the opportunity to exercise that right. More than a right, it is a responsibility of citizenship to participate in the election process. Polls are open from morning to night so that everyone can find a time that enables them to cast their ballot. Those unable to make it to the polls, for whatever reason, can vote by absentee ballot. While many excuses may be heard after the fact, there is no good reason to not vote.
Still, in 2004, only 64 percent of those eligible to vote did. That election was decided by a very narrow margin, meaning that less than one third of the people comprised the “majority” that decided the election. In a democracy, every voice needs to be heard and every vote counts. Wouldn’t it be great if just once the turnout for an election was 100 percent (though I’d settle for 90 something)? We might not like the outcome, but at least we would know that the decision actually reflected the majority’s opinion.
Don’t let yours be the vote that isn’t counted because you simply didn’t vote. See you at the polls on Tuesday.