On July 4, 1776, thirteen American colonies declared themselves to be the United States of America and claimed freedom from the tyranny of the British Crown. It was a dangerous and bold move. They went on to say that they “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The primary way they intended to protect those rights and our freedom from tyranny was through a representative democracy. Government Of the People, By the People, and For the People. The power to vote (suffrage or franchise) leaders into power, hold them accountable for how they govern, and replace them when they fail to serve our best interests is the key to this new and unusual form of government.
However, what is currently a right of all citizens of the United States of America who are 18 or over and not a convicted felon has not always been so.
When the fathers of the USA wrote those words in 1776, they didn’t extend the right to vote to everyone. In fact, the only people who could vote were white males who had property (usually 50 acres and a home that taxes were paid on). In some states, the vote was extended to women who could meet the property requirements, but by 1790 most states allowed only white males to vote regardless of property ownership.
It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted women the right to vote. However, individual states still imposed various wealth restrictions that hindered the ability of poor or non-white men to vote which now also applied to poor or non-white women.
Another forty years went by before a series of court rulings in the sixties removed the rest of the barriers to voting and established the “one person, one vote” electoral system we enjoy today. Our country is almost 250 years old, but it has only been in my lifetime that everyone (over the age of 18) had the legal right to vote.
Universal and equal suffrage consists of the right to vote without restriction due to sex, race, social status, education level, or wealth. It typically does not extend the right to vote to all residents of a region. Distinctions are made regarding citizenship, age, and occasionally mental capacity or criminal convictions. However, the legal right to vote is not the same as the ability to vote.
As a leader, I am committed to considering how other people are experiencing their world. Something doesn’t have to be intentionally wrong for us to work to make it better. Today, there are still impediments to voting faced by people who are poor, less educated, members of a minority, homeless, or otherwise unable to meet the eligibility requirements to vote in their county. While one can argue that it being difficult to vote is not the same as being disenfranchised, if you are impeded enough the result is the same. Some of the ways that people are still potentially being disenfranchised today include:
Voter ID Laws – 36 states have voter ID laws that require a person to present an ID before they can vote. These were enacted to prevent people from assuming another person’s identity to vote. However, the possibly unintentional effect of voter ID laws is the disenfranchisement of low-income voters, people of color, young people, and people with disabilities because they may have trouble obtaining the proper ID, can’t afford one, have trouble traveling to an ID location, or are intimidated or confused by the rules. This is not a minor issue as it is estimated that 21 million people do not have the necessary ID to vote.
Voter Registration Challenges – Potentially more than 50 million US citizens are ineligible to vote because they aren’t registered. Requirements to register a certain amount of time before the election, lack of online registration, not having a driver’s license or the information needed to register, and new challenges brought on by COVID-19 continue to limit people’s legal access to the polls.
Voter Roll Purges – Election officials regularly review voter rolls and remove names of people who are thought to be dead, have moved, or be ineligible to vote for some other reason, such as having a felony conviction. This is known as a “voter purge.” This seems reasonable and should be rudimentary clerical work. However, these purges often result in eligible voters being removed from the rolls. This year, purges could be especially problematic for those who vote by mail as they might be unaware they have been removed and could be unable to resolve it in time to vote.
The path that the United States of America has taken to get to this national election tomorrow has been a long and tortuous one. Beginning with the sacrifice of life and wealth made by those who declared us free from tyranny, to the lives lost in our Civil War, to the men and women who have fought decade after decade to extend suffrage to those who were denied their franchise, many people have given their lives to gain the right to vote freely for the people who will lead our country.
On this eve of the national election for 2020, I strongly urge you to exercise your right to vote. It may be inconvenient; it may be difficult; it will almost certainly be aggravating, but it is the basis for our form of government. After the Constitutional Convention someone asked Dr. Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.” Our participation in the election process through our vote is the primary way we maintain our system of government, Of the People, By the People, and For the People. Participating in the communities where we live and work, at the local, state, and national level is our duty as well as our privilege, and it is The Kimray Way.