By Carol Seeger
American storyteller Louis L’Amour once said, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”
For those of you too young to remember the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter’s unprecedented use of a sign language interpreter during his party’s nomination acceptance speech prior to the 1976 election or even “hanging chads” from the 2000 election, voting might not seem important, worth the time and effort or even less, a privilege.
Ask Rev. George Lee’s family if the right to vote is a privilege. Rev. Lee was one of the first black people to register to vote in Humphreys County, Mississippi. He used his pulpit and his own printing press to encourage others in his community to vote. He was murdered in May 1955 for his efforts.
Ask Jonathan Daniels’ fellow seminary graduates if voting is worth the time and effort. Daniels had driven from Boston to Haneyville, Ala., to help with black voter registration in 1965. He was arrested and jailed during a demonstration on August 20 but released the next day. Moments after his release Daniels was shot to death by a deputy sheriff who was never accused of the crime.
Ask Vernon Dahmer’s friends and business associates if each vote is important. Dahmer, a wealthy businessman, offered to pay the poll tax for anyone who couldn’t afford the required fees. The day after a radio show announced the offer in January 1966, Dahmer’s house was firebombed and he later lost his life from severe burns he sustained during the blast.
These are but three of the thousands of men and women who lost jobs, families, homes, friends, freedom, or their lives fighting for the right to vote. Many endured humiliation. Many were ostracized. Many incurred injury.
During the 70 year-long Women’s Suffrage Movement, women were beaten and jailed during demonstrations, parades, and marches to gain the attention of Congress and change voting laws, which, at the time, allowed only men the right to vote. They lost children to those who deemed them unfit mothers because they dared to cross social norms of conventional roles of wives and mothers. Even after women were granted the right to vote under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, women feared retribution for voting against their husband’s party alliance, often refusing to vote at all.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 61.8% of all registered voters participated in the 2012 presidential election. That leaves 39.2% of registered voters whose opinions were not counted. Voters in the 18 to 34 year-old category have historically had the lowest voter turn-out for both presidential and congressional elections, yet this demographic has the most to gain through civic engagement, education of social and political issues, and participation in the voting process. Voter advocacy groups cite the number one reason younger citizens give for not voting or even registering to vote is that they don’t think it’s important or a worthwhile use of their time.
Rev. Lee, Daniels, and Dahmer would disagree if they had survived the Civil Rights movement.
The Presidential Preference Primary and Special Election will be held on March 1, 2016. This election will narrow the field of Democrats and Republicans running for president leading up to the General Primary Election in May. In addition, City of Atlanta residents will vote on a 1% sales and use tax for water and sewer purposes. Sample ballots for Dekalb County residents can be found at www.web.co.dekalb.ga.us/Voter/CurrentElectionInfo.html. Sample ballots for Fulton County residents can be found at www.fultoncountyga.gov/rae-home.
Registration for eligible voters for the March 1 election ended on February 1. However, even if you are not registered to vote in March, registration is still required for the general primary election in May and the presidential election in November. See your county’s election website for registration information as early as possible. If you have a valid Georgia driver’s license, you can register online at www.registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR . It takes about one minute.
In addition, identification is required at your assigned polling location. Forms of acceptable identification are a Georgia Driver’s license (even if it is expired), a valid government issued photo ID, a valid passport, any valid employee ID issued by the federal, state, county, or municipal government, a valid U.S. military ID, or valid tribal ID. If you have questions about identification requirements, you may contact Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office at (404) 656-2881.
Early voting is available in both DeKalb and Fulton Counties. Locations of early voting polls can also be found on your county’s elections website. Many local churches and senior centers offer free transportation to precinct polls on Election Day.
On March 1, please VOTE. It’s important. It’s worth our time and effort. It’s a right and a privilege in the United States, for which people around the world are still fighting and dying.
Your Voice, Your Vote
By Carol Seeger