I’ve never understood why so many people don’t bother to vote. Wouldn’t you think that every person would want some input on who is going to run their city, county, state or nation?
Yet, nationally, more than 40% of eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In Minnesota, 25% didn’t vote — the best voter turnout in the nation. That still meant that about 980,000 eligible Minnesota voters didn’t vote.
In 1787, when the United States adopted the Constitution, only white men could vote. Since then, there have been huge hard-fought struggles to expand that right. Here’s how important it is:
- After the Civil War the 13th Amendment (ratified 1865) abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) guaranteed that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens, and states that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens."
- The 15th Amendment (1870) expressly provided that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
- Then came the 17th Amendment (1913), which gave the people (rather than state legislators) the right to vote for their senators.
- And the biggest change of all, the 19th Amendment (1920), gave women the right to vote (next year is the 100th anniversary).
- In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act was passed, including the right to vote for Native Americans.
- In 1943, the Magnuson Act permitted Chinese immigrants to become naturalized citizens, and thus to vote.
- The 23rd Amendment was ratified in 1961, giving D.C. citizens the right to vote in presidential elections.
- The 24th Amendment (1964) eliminated poll taxes, and in 1965, the Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests, both of which had been used in many southern states to deny people the right to vote.
- Most recently, the 26th Amendment (1971) granted the right to vote to citizens who are at least 18 years old. That means all adult citizens can vote.
As Tom Nelson, the president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, recently wrote: “Voting is a nonpartisan issue.”
President Reagan called it “the crown jewel of American liberties.”
President Ford praised the vote as “the very foundation of our American system.”
LBJ described it as “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.”
Former congressman Lee H. Hamilton wrote for following in this newspaper a few weeks ago ("How do we keep our democracy healthy?" Nov. 22): “Plenty of politicians want to handicap or exclude voters they don’t like, and this sort of manipulation of our system is as big a threat to its integrity as outsiders’ attempts to hack it.”
My one vote won’t change the result of an election very often. But when those one votes add up to millions of votes, an incompetent nincompoop can be elected. That’s how important voting is in a democracy!
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota’s Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at email@example.com or jamesmanahan.com.