I will remember 2020 voting for the rest of my life or until my memory slips to the point I can’t remember much of anything. The 2020 voting cycle has been the most contentious one I’ve experienced. Ironically, I do not remember when I first voted in a presidential election. The first one for which I was eligible was the 1968 election when Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew defeated Hubert Humphrey and Edward Muskie and George Wallace and Curtis LeMay. Nixon’s election laid the foundation for the Watergate scandal a few years later and his 1974 resignation.
By November of 1968 I was settling into my first adult job in at The Defiance College’s Public Relations Office in Defiance, Ohio. The country was stuck in the middle of the Vietnam War. One by one I watched young men my age get drafted, many going to Vietnam. Some never came back; others came back wounded and too traumatized to talk about it. Others opted to relocate to Canada, to avoid fighting for a cause they could not endorse. I don’t remember if I voted that year, though I do know that was the first presidential election in which I eligible to vote. Until 1971 the legal voting age was 21, an age I obtained in 1967. In 1971 Congress passed the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. The Vietnam War prompted the slogan, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”
New Generation of Voters
An estimated additional 4 Million young citizens are eligible to vote in 2020, having turned 18 in time to vote. Three of them are my grandchildren. Unlike their grandmother, who can’t remember when she first voted, they and their friends are tuned in, registered, and have probably already cast their first POTUS ballots.
Voting is one of the trademarks of a free country. Yet, the right to vote has not been uniformly granted and is still not consistently available. Those in power are often reluctant to share that power, believing that allowing others to participate diminishes their capacity to control outcomes.
The men – they were all men – who crafted our founding documents wrote: “We 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.”
Radical New Concept
It’s a beautiful – and at the time rather unique – idea. These men were responding to a complicated system of societal stations back in Europe, especially in England. There a person’s rank in society was pre-determined by the luck of the birth certificate. Power, wealth, prestige, and position were passed down through family lines. Families that had these advantages kept them in the family. Those who didn’t have them, had little chance to obtain them. The idea people could determine their own destinies was a radical idea when our founding documents were forged two and a half centuries ago.
Of course, the men who wrote these beautiful words didn’t really mean every man. They meant white land-owning men. They meant you didn’t have to have royal connections to have equal access to governance – if you were a white land-owning male. Women and people of color need not worry about such details. The land-owning white men would take care of them.
About a century later the 1870 15th Amendment gave all male U.S. Citizens the right to vote. Women have only been allowed into the voting booth since 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed. It took the Snyder Act of 1924 to grant full citizenship to Native Americans. It took the 1965 Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, to remove assorted barriers put in place to discourage voting. The 1971 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Decade by decade, amendment by amendment, Congress has redefined who has a voice in our democracy. Meanwhile those in power have pushed back with poll taxes, literacy tests, and restricting voting locations and hours. Most recently, during a pandemic, efforts to repress the vote of the masses has taken the form of undermining the United States Postal Service’s ability to process the wave of mail-in ballots and reducing the number of drop-off locations to collect them. In this election cycle, the determination of the people to vote seems greater than efforts to discourage their votes. Record numbers of people have registered and record numbers have already cast their ballots.
Vote. It Matters.
I shall not suggest how you vote, but I implore you to vote if you have not already done so by mail-in or early voting. Do so in honor of those before us who fought to edit our founding documents to reflect who we strive to be. Let us vote to hold these truths self-evident:
“That all citizens, age 18 and over, of every race, gender, and religion are not only created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; but also, the right to vote.”
As we go to the 2020 voting booth, may the Great Giver of all life guide our way;
Guard our hearts from hate and fear and grant us courage to challenge injustice.
May we vote for compassion for all people.
May bonds of friendship prove stronger than fear of strangers and political differences.
May we embrace our differences and make amends for past wrongs.
May we vote for the rights of those who look, dress, talk, and think differently than us.
May our votes pave a path of peace and reconciliation.
I’m pleased to announce Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale or Two Cultures is now available in electronic and print form at these places:
Bookshop.org (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Audio book coming soon!