I have been eligible to vote since nineteen hundred sixty-two. My first voting experience was from a point of true novice. As a registered voter in the parish of Orleans, I did not receive any advance instructions on how to use the voting machine, not even from my parents! My decision to vote was nursed by the religious dedication of my parents who never missed an opportunity to vote. My parent’s determination to vote was an example that I felt that I had to imitate. It was not until much later in my life that I began to understand the real significance of voting and what one vote actually could do.
Voters are the silent majority; the most powerful voice that makes no noise when spoken. The act of voting is painless; its cost is nothing, and yet so many people ask themselves a question that one should never ask of themselves – I am only one person and my vote does not count anyway! If you have ever asked yourself that question; it is because you have never taken the time to understand the significance of voting. Many people know and use the adage – the pen is mightier that the sword, but few people attach the same significance to – one vote, one voice. The general elections of 2000 and 2004 should give you pause to think through your reluctance to vote. There are other reasons why you should never fail to exercise your right to vote. I have enumerated some of them here, but the threat is always present under different disguises!
Taxation without representation – The Boston Tea Party was the first instance of rebellion by a group of people based on a rejection of authority without representation. In rebelling against the tax placed against them, the rebels did the most primal of actions that humans always do – they elected a leader from amongst themselves. As recently as the opening of this year’s Congress, Washington D.C. still does not have the right to be represented in Congress. The 23rd amendment of the Constitution says that all people of the Republic should have the right to be represented in Congress. Though the conception of Washington D.C. as a place of neutrality by our forefathers was admirable and necessary, the fact remains that all citizens of the United States have the right to equal representation before Congress.
I point out this inequality because it highlights the continuous struggle for the right to be heard by all citizens. It also points out the struggles that currently exist for voters country-wide. It is documented that many voters were turned away from the voting polls in Florida, Ohio, and a number of other States because of the most absurd of reasons – time was up, and the polls had to close; address of record is not current, and purging of the voter rolls were reasons that voters lost their right to vote.
In hearings held before Congress after the 2000 general elections, Mary Frances Berry testified to the following:
The Commission found that the most dramatic undercount in the election was the nonexistent ballots of eligible voters, who were turned away, or wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls by various procedures and practices. State officials failed to fulfill their duties in a manner that would prevent this disenfranchisement. A combination of restrictive statutory provisions, wide-ranging errors and inadequate and unequal resources in the election process denied countless Floridians the right to vote. The disenfranchisement of Florida's voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of African Americans. Statewide, based upon county-level statistical estimates, African American voters were nearly ten times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected in Florida. On a statewide basis, while presidential election, African Americans cast about 54% of the ballots that were rejected in the election. Before and during the election state and county officials were aware of several key factors that ultimately contributed to the disenfranchisement of qualified voters.
There was a disturbing dearth of quality controls at many levels of the Florida election system that resulted in a wide range of errors, including the insufficient provision of adequate resources. Large numbers of voters in Florida experienced frustration and confusion, which resulted in the denial of their right to vote or to have their vote counted. The state's highest officials failed to fulfill their duties in a manner that would prevent this disenfranchisement. The election system is the engine that drives the participation of citizens in our democracy through the exercise of the precious right to vote. Regrettably, Florida officials with responsibilities for the operation of the election system were asleep at the switch.
That these voters were intimidated and denied the right to vote in Florida, and a number of other municipalities in other States, is real and scary. Intimidation is a fact that has been documented. The Republican Party is guilty of numerous instances where the rights of voters has been placed at risk by zealous individuals who are more concerned about reducing the voter rolls of those voters who may be registered as Democrats then in maintaining the rights of voters overall. It is the opinion of this writer that the right to vote is continuously under assault, and should remind each of us that this ‘right’ is always in jeopardy – the struggle is forever. Blacks, in particular, should remember the significance of the the Civil Rights struggle because of this ever present danger to our freedom. Of those who have been persecuted in regard to their right to vote, Blacks and Latinos, by far lead the list of those most likely to experience a loss of the right to vote.
I have always said that the right to vote is more important that the right to life. If you are not willing to die for the right to vote, then you have lost the right live. If you are challenged at the voting polls, your immediate reaction should be to stand up and fight because if you never reach the polling booth for that election, the opposition will have won.
In keeping with the motto of New Hampshire, “Live free, or die”, brave men have offered the supreme sacrifice in pursuit and the protection of the right to vote. Live free, or die.