I watched “All the King’s Men” recently, and the above phrase stuck in my mind. Many citizens believe they don’t count in the political process, and when enough people feel that way, well, they don’t count. The result is the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t vote because you believe you don’t count and, ultimately, you don’t count because you don’t vote.
The Constitution does not mention voting in its seven original articles, and it does not address it in the Bill of Rights, yet we take for granted that we were given the “right” to vote. That assumption arises from our Nation’s early history as well as the 15th amendment (prohibits denial based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude), the 19th amendment (prohibits denial based on gender), and the 26th amendment (prohibits denial to those 18 or older). After all, how is it possible to deny something if it doesn’t exist?
In the past, women, paupers, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian immigrants, and other groups were denied the right to vote. Numerous obstacles were created to block or discourage certain groups from voting – obstacles such as religious tests, property qualifications, literacy tests, poll taxes, and exclusions on the basis of race and sex. As a nation, the road to obtaining voting rights has been a struggle with periods of expansion and periods of contraction.
In colonial America, the basic principle that governed voting rights was the philosophy that voters should have a “stake” in society. That stake was best represented by property owners who were considered committed members of the community. Thus, each of the thirteen original colonies required voters to either own a certain amount of land or personal property or to pay a specified amount in taxes.
By the end of the Civil War, a growing number of individuals began to favor extension of the right to vote to African-Americans, leading, ultimately, to the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. With the passage of the 15th Amendment, only one major group remained subject to exclusion from voting – women.
Even though the Constitution did not exclude women from voting, they were historically excluded by those in power. That exclusion finally came to an end in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18 in response to the Vietnam War and the sentiment that if 18-year-olds were old enough to “fight and die for their country then they were old enough to vote.”
Senator Clinton was criticized by the Bush White House for stating that “we” are invisible to President Bush. I will go even further – we are invisible not only to President Bush but also to every senator, every representative, every mayor, every council person, and every other elected official if we don’t vote.
In 1971, John Lennon recorded “Power to the People.” Power to the People – the title says it all. That power comes, not from a song, but from voting; it is high time American citizens broke free of their perpetuation of the self-fulfilling prophecy and shed their invisible role.
I certainly don’t like the idea of being invisible – do you?