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Who Says I Can't Vote?

Updated on December 7, 2017
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU in 1964. Worked in NYC for 2 years in public relations then as reporter and editor before retiring from The Hour newspaper.

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President George H.W. Bush
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There's a chance, albeit a small one, that the 21st Century will usher in a new age of enlightenment -- at least in the age of voting rights.

In the days of our country's founding, it was generally believed by our leaders, who were property owners, that only property owners should be allowed to vote. They did not see fit to give the right to vote to slaves or women.

Eventually, however, amendments to the U.S. Constitution made it illegal to deny suffrage because of race, color or previous condition of servitude (15th), on account of sex (19th), or to any citizen 18 years of age or older (26th.)

Voting Deemed a Privilege

The right to vote has been deemed a privilege by federal, state and local legislatures, and so the franchise has not been extended to children and generally has been withheld from the mentally ill and convicted criminals.

But isn't the right to decide who will govern you really one that you're born with? Who is to say a very young person, someone whose mental capacity is below normal, or even a convicted criminal has no right to decide how he or she is governed?

What do authorities fear? That the young, mentally ill and convicted criminals will conspire to take over the world? That the mentally ill will vote for Napoleon Bonaparte? That the very young will vote for Mickey Mouse or Michael Jackson? That the convicted criminals will vote for John Gotti?

To Each His (or Her) Own

The truth is that each voter has his own reasons for deciding for whom to vote -- and they're not always rational! Some people vote for "the best man" regardless of party; others vote on the issues (How many people voted for "Read my lips" George (H.W.) Bush because they were opposed to a tax increase? How many people vote for anyone who says he'll cut taxes? How many votes did John Kennedy get because he was more handsome than Richard Nixon?)

If we're going to disenfranchise people because they're not capable of evaluating the issues and making rational judgments, why don't we ban from voting people who are too elderly or too sick to read the papers and keep up with the issues?

Why not take away the vote from people who spend a lot of time out of town, or who do not subscribe to the local newspaper? How about those obviously irrational people who declare publicly that there's not a dime's worth of difference between any of the candidates, pledging not to show up at the polls?

'Trust But Verify'

If we have the franchise, what should we base our vote on? The smartest guy? Nicest guy? The issues? Whom we can trust? Reagan, on foreign policy said, "Trust, but verify!" In voting, that translates to: Trust, but only if you can be assured the candidate will do as he says he'll do (political parties help to ensure they do!) Unfortunately, we're getting away from parties, and thus drifting away from the verification of candidates that helped make this country great!

Anybody who can drag himself to the polls, whether young, old, mentally diminished, or in jail, should be able to vote. Phony reasons for disenfranchising them, such as they'll be easily influenced or will vote for stupid reasons, just do not hold up to close examination.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaperof Norwalk, Conn., on Nov. 15, 1997. I have not changed my mind on this issue. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

Will you definitely vote on Election Day?

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'The World's Made Up of All Kinds of People -- So Vote!'


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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 4 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, RonElFran. In my opinion, we, as citizens, have the right to vote by virtue of our citizenship. I do not see that anyone -- or any political body -- has the right to disenfranchise anybody (for any reason other than non-citizenship.) I do not believe that elections would be more arbitrary or capricious for the reason that those young people would not show up at the polls unless they were serious about voting. In fact, many otherwise qualified people do not show up to vote under today's rules for that, and other, reasons. I do not believe that "less than rational" people would show up to vote any more than that occurs today. More importantly, any citizen has a right to vote for any reason whatsoever (There is no restriction today related to the reason we vote for a particular candidate.) If someone wants to vote for "Mickey Mouse" or "DarthVader" they have the right to do that (and some have already done so.)

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This is an interesting piece. In an age where the Supreme Court seems to have wanted to cripple the Voting Rights Act, and in which one of our political parties is aggressively doing everything they can think of to make it more difficult for certain people to vote, your emphasis on universal suffrage is important.

      On the other hand, I can't help wondering if throwing the vote open to anything that breathes wouldn't (1) make elections even more arbitrary and capricious than they are, and (2) further diminish voting by making people more cynical about our electoral system as they perceive their thoughtful votes being swamped by those of people whose choices are clearly less than rational.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, Richard. We started with property owners voting being pretty much the only ones eligible to vote in our "democracy." It took many years years before we allowed women and blacks to vote -- and today there's well financed Republican efforts to keep Democrats from casting their ballots. If we're to have anything like a true democracy every American should be qualified to vote for the leaders of their choice. At the same time we need to take the money out of politics -- all the money! Nice to hear from you.

    • profile image

      Richard William Posner / AKA ColdWarBaby 5 years ago

      Hello William! Well written as always.

      Yes. Let them all vote. It wouldn't make a dimes worth of difference anyway.

      Elections have been increasingly manipulated by special interests for decades. In 2000 they became a complete charade and have remained so since.

      The president is selected, not elected.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I agree that there's no excuse for denying the right to vote to our brave men and women serving overseas, Anna Marie Bowman. But denying the vote to any citizen, I believe, is an equal injustice. Whenever millions of citizens can be denied the right to vote because of their age (under 18 or under 21) or because of their behavior (those imprisoned for crimes or those who are not able to read) then we have to be concerned about what's next? Once we endorse the disenfranchisement of one group of citizens it becomes easier to do the same to any other group of citizens.

    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 7 years ago from Florida

      I am more concerned with the right to vote of those serving our country over seas. Even the idea that a lot of those men and women are stripped of their right to vote because their state couldn't get their heads out of their behinds and get things in order really makes me mad.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      If we're going survive as a nation, Ralph, voting rights must be extended to all Americans. But I think it will be a very long time before the Constitutional changes required to attain national standards could be enacted. I am fearful that a Constitutional Convention could turn into a national disaster -- we could end up losing many of our civil rights in the process. There are many who would attempt to politicize the Constitution and take away our First and Fifth amendment rights, among others. The Electoral College alone would turn out to be one heck of a controversial issue. Also, it would be nearly impossible to make substantial improvements through the amendment process. The founders, wisely I think, made the process incredibly difficult. Thanks for your always thoughtful and welcome comments.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Great Hub and video!

      Seems to me that ALL rules for who is allowed to vote should be determined nationally, not state by state. The prohibitions on voting by convicted felons conflict with the supposed goal of paying one's debt to society and rehabilitation. Many non-violent drug users who should have been put in rehabilitation programs rather than prisons are being stigmatized rather than rehabilitated by denial of their right to vote once they have served their sentences. Other state voting rules have been rigged by the party in power to favor their candidates, e.g., Florida 2000.