I collect a lot of buttons, badges, pins and medals in the course of any given year — but none means more to me than the simple “I Voted” sticker I get each November when I do my civic duty in whatever election is happening. There is something so fundamentally right, important and fulfilling about going to the polls and casting my ballot for candidates and referenda on various issues. Each time I vote, I think about the millions of people on this earth who are not allowed to vote, who have no voice, whose freedom to choose their government is curtailed by tyranny, ignorance, fear and violence.
Not so long ago — in the memory of some of our grandmothers, perhaps — women did not have the right to vote in this country. Worse, and more recently, whether by law or by the fact of racial hatred, African American, Hispanic and other people of different races and ethnicities have suffered violence, intimidation and unjust barriers to their ability to exercise the right to vote. Even now, at this late date in our nation’s history, voter suppression continues; there are factions that want to roll back the clock to those horrific days in the Old South when black citizens faced perniciously crafted legal barriers to voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was necessary to eradicate the deliberate efforts of some politicians to block votes.
Sadly, last year the Supreme Court of the United States made a ruling that weakens the Voting Rights Act, and some states have gone so far as to re-institute barriers to voting for citizens who often live at the margins. Under the guise of Voter ID laws, these barriers discriminate against people who cannot produce a driver’s license or other identification. Not all states require Voter ID — at my polling place in College Park, Maryland last week (early voting is a great invention!) all I had to do was give my name and address to be given access to the ballot box. That’s how it should work everywhere in a free country! But even without overt voter suppression tactics, more subtle forms of discouragement for black and Hispanic voters occur in counties where there are not enough polling places, or where the equipment used to record votes is outdated or broken.
But beyond continuing efforts on the part of some corrupt politicians to thwart the rights of citizens, sometimes citizens, themselves, abrogate their rights in the most puzzling way — by not voting at all. What’s up with that? People died, quite literally, to protect our freedoms and rights. How can we possibly betray the passion and sacrifice of those who fought wars, who suffered beatings and even lynchings in order to advance the idea that all people in this democracy must have an equal right to vote.
Here in the District of Columbia, the election is very consequential — a new mayor, members of the City Council, other important political offices that will determine the fate of our city for years to come. You can vote for whomever you choose — what you do in the ballot box is your business only! — but you must exercise your right and responsibility to vote.
Reporters and pollsters are predicting low voter turnout because of apathy and ennui emanating from the too-long campaign season. Get a grip, my friends! Apathy should never be allowed to cast the deciding vote in any election. Whatever jurisdiction is your home, you have a great civic obligation to take the small amount of time required that day to go to the polls and cast your vote.
Voting is our most precious right AND responsibility. I urge all members of the Trinity community to make sure that voting is at the top of your “To Do” list on Tuesday!