November 2014: Voting is your right

You have in your power a very precious gift—the right to vote. Yet, on Nov. 4 this year, many of you will not make use of that gift. Perhaps if you had never had the right, then suddenly it was given to you, you might be more likely to make good use of it.

I didn’t have the right to vote in this country until 1982. I was well past the age of 18, but I was considered a “legal alien” for 14 years. When we crossed the border from Canada to the United States in April 1968 at the Thousand Islands, we had our green cards in hand. We were expected to behave like citizens, pay taxes and obey laws but not to vote.

That struck me as “taxation without representation,” a theme that led to the Boston Tea Party and, ultimately, to the Revolutionary War. I didn’t have revolution on my mind when we started the application to become naturalized U.S. citizens. I merely wanted to vote. My husband wanted an American passport so that when he returned home from trips abroad, he would not be detained in the foreign or noncitizen area. So, we began the process of filling out forms, being fingerprinted by our local police, and waiting…and waiting. I was getting anxious, as I really wanted to be able to vote in November 1982. We eventually cleared all hurdles and became naturalized citizens at the end of October. A touching moment after we were sworn came from our daughter who had been born in New York when she said, “Good. Now we’re all the same.” We didn’t get to vote that year as the time period to register was closed. We haven’t missed an election since whether local, state or federal.

We are now in the demographic of people older than 50 who have the highest percentage of voting among registered voters. It continues to amaze me that we don’t have close to 100 percent of registered voters exercising their precious right. According to government statistics, some of the reasons for not voting include: too busy; illness or disability; not interested; don’t like candidates or issues; don’t know; forgot. How can you forget an election? How can you not be interested?

The right to vote has had a long and difficult history. In the early years of this country, only about 120,000 people in a total population of more than 4 million could vote. Voting was usually limited to free white men who owned property and met certain religious requirements. Over time, the rules changed to adapt to the times. After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment gave the vote to men of all races. In reality, most black people in the South did not use that right until the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. After a long struggle, women were given the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The League of Women Voters says, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” If you want to complain, then use your vote to send a message.
If you ever doubted the value of your vote, consider the millions of dollars spent on advertising to get you to sway their way. When you vote, make sure it is your vote. It’s much too precious a gift to throw away.