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Kunin: Right to Vote

The right to vote is the core of democracy.
 

The word is out. Voter turnout will be low in this mid-term election. Vermont will not be an exception. But we can defy this dire expectation by proving the pundits wrong.

I’m a fierce believer that the right to vote is at the core of democracy. Without it, we would become a dictatorship. The streets of Hong Kong are filled with couragous demonstrators for one reason - the right to elect their leaders.

I remember the day I turned eighteen and registered to vote. I was now a voter. With voter turnout declining, it’s time for a refresher course on the history of suffrage.

The founding fathers decided to leave suffrage decisions up to the states. Only white, male landowners could vote. African American Americans were denied suffrage until 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment. The right to vote could not be “denied or abridged because of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

Women had to wait another fifty years, before they won the same right. Which declared that the right to vote cannot be “denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex?” And in 1971, President Nixon signed the 26th Amendment extending the right to vote to 18 year olds.

Throughout our history we have expanded suffrage. Today a number of states are attempting to restrict voting rights through stringent voter ID laws. The most recent example is in Texas where the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could require photo ID’s. The stated purpose is to prevent fraud despite sparse evidence of fraud. The impact of these restrictive laws, confirmed by a lower court, is that they are effective in reducing voter turnout particularly amongst African Americans,Hispanics, young people and the poor. We need to defeat these voter suppression tactics by re-launching a national voting rights campaign, similar to the one that eliminated the poll tax and enabled African Americans to register to vote during the civil rights movement.

Voter turnout among African Americans, Hispanics and young people may decide the outcome of many close elections. Both sides know that. But the right to vote should not be a partisan issue. Voting is an act of patriotism. If you love your country and are qualified to vote, it is your responsibility to vote. We in Vermont have that right. Let’s not toss it away by staying home on Election Day.

See you there.