Election Day: Voting is our ‘civic sacrament’

Apathy keeps many Americans away from the polls. They figure their vote is meaningless among millions of others. But that’s not true. Go vote.

Alan Diaz/AP
A voter prepares to cast his ballot during the last day of early voting in Miami Beach, Fla., on Saturday, Nov. 3. Many parts of Florida saw long lines of people eager to vote on the weekend.

Election Day is a good time to remember how far Americans have come to exercise their right to vote.

Americans no longer need to own property to vote. They can’t be forced to pay a poll tax in order to cast their ballot. They can’t be denied a vote because of their age (if they’re 18 years or older), their gender, their race, or their ethnic background. They don’t have to earn a minimum amount of money to vote. And despite who they are or where in the country they live, each person’s vote counts equally: one person, one vote.

Americans didn’t always have all these voting rights. Nonwhites didn’t join the ranks of voters until 1870 (with additional safeguards enacted in the 1960s) and women in 1920, each after the US Constitution was amended to include them.

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Americans have died in wars that, at least in part, were fought to ensure that they would have a right to vote.

Yet traditionally, even in a presidential election year, about 4 out of 10 Americans of voting age don’t head to the polls. This year’s turnout is expected to not quite match the presidential election of 2008.

Granted, 2008 was an unusual year. Neither candidate was an incumbent and one, Barack Obama, was poised to make history by becoming the country’s first African-American president.

But this year’s election has its own compelling themes, including two major-party presidential candidates in Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney with sharp differences on important issues facing Americans, from how to provide the best healthcare to how to jump-start the economy.

Apathy keeps too many Americans away from the polls. They figure their vote is meaningless among millions of others. But they’re wrong:

•Voting does make a difference. “Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote,” William E. Simon, former US secretary of the Treasury, has pointed out. “In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote,” concluded David Foster Wallace, the award-winning American novelist.

•Voting shows that you take your role as a US citizen seriously and are proud of your country’s more-than-200-year history of conducting peaceful elections.

•Voting is a great way to connect with others in your town or neighborhood: It’s a shared activity that celebrates, and shows gratitude for, living in a democracy.
The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame, calls voting “a civic sacrament.” It’s a reminder that every American has the right to express his or her views.

“Voting is a Walt Whitman moment,” one voter in Massachusetts recently said, referring to the 19th-century American poet of democracy. “You hear America singing.”

All Americans can be inspired by those who took advantage of early voting opportunities in states like Ohio and Florida over the weekend. Some patiently waited in line for hours to cast their ballots. Those on the East Coast who have been hit by superstorm Sandy may have extra challenges getting to the polls Tuesday. Every effort should be made to see that they get the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

Your candidates might lose, but that’s not the whole story. If you “always vote for principle, though you may vote alone,... your vote is never lost,” said John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president.

The blizzard of negative ads that try to besmirch the character of candidates and misrepresent their views could dupe voters into thinking that no candidate deserves support. But too much is at stake to be dragged down by mudslinging. Americans are savvy enough to look beyond overheated rhetoric and calmly choose candidates they feel will best serve not only their own interests but those of all Americans.

If you believe in democracy, do your duty and go to the polls Nov. 6.

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