Most of us take voting as a right, which we may (or may not) choose to exercise. To me, voting is a privilege that I cherish and use in every primary and election. How else can I – together with my fellow citizens – put leaders in place with the authority to govern us wisely and fairly; and to be responsible for what is done with our tax payments, to determine and enforce our laws, and to protect us from harm, as well as to serve as the guardians of our rights as citizens of a democracy?
But 100 years ago, American women were not allowed to vote in presidential elections. The Constitutional Amendment which guaranteed women that right only became law on August 18, 1920, just in time for a presidential election. While slaves were freed in 1865 (under the Lincoln administration) the Amendment that guaranteed “citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by any State on account of race, color, or previous conditions of servitude” became law on February 3, 1870. And most of us will admit that in some parts of the USA, 130 years later, there are some citizens still being denied their voting rights unjustly. In fact, just a few days ago, an article in the L.A. Times pointed out that “Getting the right to vote is one thing, keeping that right is quite another. Poll closures, voter intimidation purges, restrictive voter ID requirements, and gerrymandering are all tools that have been used to suppress the vote” – and I have seen some of these tools used on me during the many years I have lived and voted even here in California.
But those of us who live here should remember that voting is not just a right and a privilege… it is also a responsibility. Use it wisely and use it well. In this November’s election, it is important to vote early, if you can do so, and to ensure that your vote will be counted by making sure that it reaches the County Elections Office, or your polling station as early as possible. The Post Office currently takes 7 to 10 days for mail to travel from Montecito to Santa Barbara. Take that into account. If you are voting in person, wear a mask to protect yourself, your fellow voters, and the staff at polling stations.
This election, like this year, is unusual. There is MORE AT STAKE this year than ever before. We will be voting for a President who needs to finally (after 200,000 deaths) make a real effort to use medical and scientific knowledge to get a grip on how we will deal with COVID-19 and its consequences in a way that reduces the death toll from now on. One who will help us move steadily into real economic recovery on the ground (not just in the stock market). A President who will be a true leader and join with governors of both parties in all 50 states to grapple with this mess and bring it into a solution that brings us all to better health options for the greatest number of people in our country, regardless of age, race, gender, wealth, or status. A leader who understands economics and how to use every tax dollar until it does the work of two – because neither the federal government, nor states and local governments will have enough money to solve all our problems at once. We need a leader who can and will help us all prioritize, while doing what we can to deal with our two major problems (COVID-19 and the economy) and keeping our nation’s executive branch as functional as possible.
For me the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underlines the importance of this year’s election. If we have any hope for our nation and its communities to recover and grow, as well as a desire to live in a democracy, then we must work harder than ever to create the “more perfect union” that America’s founders described in the first sentence of the Constitution. At her Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings in July 1993, she said: “I think the Framers were intending to create a more perfect union that would become ever more perfect over time.” During the three days of those hearings, she also pointed out: “The richness of the diversity of this country is a treasure, and it is a constant challenge, too, a challenge to remain tolerant and respectful of one another.” Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 96-3.
We are also voting in our community for important state legislative representatives, for school board members who will oversee the educators shaping the future of children now in our schools and those who will follow them in the next few years (in many cases for another decade). How well are we educating the next generation? We are voting for judges, too. Local elections directly affect our lives and our families, as well as the community we live in. How good are our streets, our police, our sheriffs, our judges, our local law officials? We place great trust in them, and we count on their service. What message do we send to them if high percentages of us ignore the opportunity to vote? A good friend recently reminded me we vote not just to put our representatives in power. It is vital for people we elect to consult with us about what decisions they consider are in our best interests.
I am often concerned by the gap between those who are eligible to vote, but do not register… also by those who are registered, yet do not vote. This year let’s increase our voting numbers. Every vote cast shows that we value our right (and our privilege) as citizens to vote. It matters because we want to make our country a much more perfect union. Rising numbers of voters show that we care about who represents us and will strive along with us to build that ever more perfect union.