When the polls open on Election Day, every citizen over the age of 18 will be able to cast a vote and have their voice heard. It is a right that defines our nation as a democracy, and one that we take for granted. A little over 200 years ago, only wealthy, white men had this privilege. Thanks to the dedication and perseverance of those who came before us, we have universal suffrage. Where universal suffrage exists, the right to vote is not restricted by race, sex, religious belief, wealth, or social status.
The right to vote in colonial America was based on the idea that voters should have a stake in society. This meant that only men who paid taxes or owned property could vote. It was believed that having a financial interest in the community made them committed. Many colonies also put other restrictions into place such as religious beliefs. Our right to vote and represent ourselves was one of the reasons behind the revolutionary war. No taxation without representation.
In 1870 the constitution was ratified to include the 15th amendment. This amendment, which came about in the aftermath of the civil war, prohibited state and federal governments from infringing on a person’s right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It also gave the federal government, and not the state, the right to decide the qualifications for voting. It wasn’t until 50 years later that the 19th amendment was added giving men and women equal rights to vote. This was introduced to congress in 1878, though it took over 40 years of demonstrating and campaigning from the Women’s Suffrage movement to get it passed.
In 2008 during the last Presidential election, there was only a 56% turnout of voters. Though these numbers are on the rise, it is still not enough. Just over half of our population is being represented. Our voice is being diluted by people not exercising their right to vote. Our country is at a turning point. People are Occupying the nation demanding change. This election year is one of the most important in our history. Don’t let the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears of all the men and women who fought to gain us this right go to waste. When November rolls around and it is time to chose this nation’s leaders, exercise your rights, enjoy the hard won privileges, do your duty as a citizen of this great country, and vote. I’m just sayin’.