I voted!

Sonja Karp

Twelve score and 2 years ago, our fathers set forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that the best government is one that rules only with the consent of the governed.

I apologize for taking such liberty with the words Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield as a national cemetery, however as this election day has come and gone, I can’t help but ruminate on the most vital of civic duties…exercising our right to vote.

It was taxation without representation that incited our Founding Fathers to declare independence from England, and to fight a war we should never have won. 

It was decided in the United States Constitution that democracy was imperative for this fledgling nation, and by penning this extraordinary document, our Founding Fathers created a living government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Despite the progressive thinking of those who formed this nation only white, male property owners were endowed with the right to vote for quite some time. That meant that a sizeable chunk of the population of the US was disenfranchised.

Those groups left out in the cold from having a voice in the government they were obliged to follow fought in their own way for decades to gain that right.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the right to vote was first extended to the white, male working-class and poor white men during the Jacksonian era (1792-1856), but it was during that time that women began their fight for suffrage.

It was African American men who were granted this coveted right with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Unfortunately, the reality of voting for African Americans was not realized until the 1960s and 70s due to the passage of discriminatory laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as the threat of physical violence from supremacy groups such as the KKK which kept African Americans from exercising their right to vote.

Women began fighting for suffrage in 1840, although the official beginning of the movement happened in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention. What became the 19th Amendment was written in 1878 by a Republican senator from California. It was brought before the Senate many times, but it wasn’t until 1918 that Congress proposed the amendment which would give women universal suffrage. Even then, President Wilson had to call two special sessions in the House to move the proposal through.

Proposal is only half the battle, however. It would take two years for the requisite 75 percent of states to ratify the 19th Amendment, and that only happened because women performed so valiantly on the home front during World War I. 

Native Americans nailed down their right to vote with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, while the residents of the District of Columbia achieved suffrage in 1961 with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment where it was granted as many electors as if it were a real state, but no more than America’s least populated state, which is Wyoming.

The Civil Rights Movement, which began in 1945 and extended through the 1970s, resulted in sweeping civil rights legislation that was supported by a judicially active Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. During his tenure, African Americans were finally granted the rights the Constitution provided for them in the 14th and 15th Amendments ratified nearly a century before.

The final group in the US to be enfranchised were 18-20 year olds in 1971 with the passage of the 26th Amendment. This amendment received a unanimous vote in the Senate, an overwhelmingly favorable vote in the House and only a three month state ratification period, which is the shortest in our history. 

In a speech to these 18-20 year olds after the amendment was ratified President Nixon stated, “The reason I believe that your generation…will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose that this country always needs.”

The fight for suffrage has ranked among the most sought after in our history, yet voter turnout in recent years indicates that it no longer seems to be a priority. 

In fact, the numbers are dismal. At the national level, the midterm elections in 2014 only saw 36.7 percent of the electorate show up at the polls, while 58 percent cast ballots in the presidential election of 2016. 

Here in Wyoming, only 56 percent of eligible voters were even registered for the primaries of the 2014 election and of that number only 46 percent exercised their rights. That means that it was a mere 27 percent of the voting age population in our state who voted in the primaries, and in the general election it was 38.5 percent who showed up to make the decisions for the rest of us. Only 25.6 percent of the electorate exercised their civic duty in the primary elections in 2016, while 58 percent came out for the general election. In this midterm election year, we saw the highest voter turnout in the primaries since 2010 with 31.6 percent of Wyomingites making their voices heard. 

It takes five minutes of your time to perform one of the most important responsibilities we have as a citizen of the United States. That’s probably less time than it takes to post some political rant on Facebook, and it’s much more effective. It’s sad that less than one-third of those eligible to vote in our state are taking advantage of a right that so many have fought so hard to achieve. A population who participates in government is the cornerstone of democracy, and the foundation of that participation is exercising our right to vote.


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