- Politics and Social Issues
The Right to Vote - Do You Also Have a Duty to Vote?
The right to vote runs deep in the American DNA. It is often referred to as the sacred right to vote. If you are an American citizen the one right you cherish most, or should cherish most, is your right to vote. So basic is this right that most Americans simply take it for granted. It wasn't always that way.
It's often said that there is no explicit right to vote in the United States Constitution.This is nonsense. In five places in the Constitution, the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th, the language is quite clear that there is a right to vote: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . "
The Women's Suffrage Movement
It seems strange, almost quaint, to think that as of the early part of the last century, women were not given the right to vote. After more than a century of struggle and state by state suffrage, the United States Senate finally approved the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited both state and federal prohibitions against voting based on sex. The vote was 82 percent Republicans in favor and 54 percent Democrat. Republican war on women? The amendment was ratified by the states in 1920. In an era that has seen many women occupy high office launch political campaigns to run for President of the United States, it's hard to believe that less than 100 years ago women could not even cast a ballot, much less run for political office. The Nineteenth Amendment states very succinctly, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." It's interesting to note that the United States Congress thought it more important to ban booze before getting to the question of whether women should vote. The Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) was ratified in 1919.
Racial Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement
In February 1870, Less than five years after the end of the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution banned racial discrimination in voting. The Fifteenth Amendment reads "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The amendment was plain and simple, but the history of black people's right to vote is anything but. It took years of struggle through the Civil Rights Movement that African Americans were finally granted that to which they were entitled by the Fifteenth Amendment. Among the many barriers thrown up against them, African Americans had to contend with literacy tests, poll taxes and outright intimidation through Jim Crow laws. These things are now relics of the past.
Do you consider it your civic duty as a citizen to vote?
Is There a Duty To Vote?
The universal right of American citizens to vote is beyond conjecture. We know we have the right, but do we have a duty? Let's be clear about something. There is no legal duty to vote. If you don't vote, nobody's going to call a cop because the cop has no law to enforce. We are not legally required to vote. In the last ten presidential elections an average of only 53 percent of the voting age population turned out to vote. The voting age population, it should be noted, is always somewhat less than actually eligible voters because the statistics include convicted felons, who do not have the right to vote. But the numbers are none the less startling. In a thriving democracy like ours, shouldn't we expect a very large voter turnout, especially when the presidency is at stake? It's clear that many Americans do not consider voting a duty. What are the reasons for this? Perhaps the most important reason is that many eligible voters don't believe that their vote could possibly make a difference. With our electoral college system, we don't actually vote directly for a presidential candidate but for the elector who will actually cast the ballot that elects the candidate.
Is there a moral or civic duty to vote? If you're reading this article you probably think so. Personally, I believe that I have a civic duty to vote, and that's why I never miss an election, primary or general. I don't believe, as a matter of personal integrity, that I can complain about an elected official if I didn't cast a vote for or against the person. I, probably like you, listen to the arguments, read the literature, listen to the candidates and the opinions about them from people I respect. I then make up my mind.
If you know someone who is completely ignorant of the issues and the candidates, would you encourage that person to vote?
If You Know Nothing About the Candidates or the Issues, Should You Vote?
I will probably receive hate mail from voter participation groups like the League of Women Voters, but I have a controversial thought on this subject. People who know nothing about the candidates or the issues should stay home. We have all seen "Man in the Street" interviews. These have become an genre of entertainment. In the hands of a talented interviewer, a Man on the Street interview can be entertaining, funny or depressing. We learn things like World War II was fought in the Nineteenth Century, Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States, and Sarah Palin was Barack Obama's running mate. The point is, many folks see no reason to keep up with any kind of news, much less concentrate on the issues of a political campaign.
If you're reading this article, you probably are very familiar with the issues and the candidates. Therefore, please vote. think of it as a duty.
But a duty to vote carries with it a duty to be informed, to keep up with the news, and to listen to what candidates have to say.An uninformed voter is simply a tool for those who know how to manipulate media messages.
A vote, boiled down to its essential element, is an opinion. An opinion, if you are a thinking human being, is based on facts and your observation of those facts. So if you think that Bill Clinton is president of the United States, and that he is running for reelection against Richard Nixon in the 2012 election, please do the country a favor: stay home on election day.
Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran