This is part 2 in a 3 part reflection on voting. You can read part 1 here.
I have a clear memory from childhood. I am fairly sure it was 1992, because I am almost certain it was a presidential election year, and I was young enough that I would have to follow one of my parents into the voting booth to remain supervised, but old enough to have a sense of what was going on. At 8, I’m pretty sure that’s where I was at.
I remember my dad picking up his ballot and taking me with him to the voting booth to fill it out. A high school government teacher at the time, I truly think he wanted to impress on me at an early age the importance of voting, and he had me help him fill out his ballot. I’m not sure if that was even legal, but he would take my hand in his, and we would mark each of his selections on the ballot.
Ten years later, I was 18 and registered to vote as soon as I was eligible. I was incensed at the time that anyone would question why young adults should have the right to cast a ballot. Now that I have an 18 year-old cousin who is registered to vote in her first election, I have a better understanding of why people worry. Anyways, 2002 was not a presidential election year, but it was a gubernatorial election in my state. My high school government teacher rented a small bus and piled in all of his 18 and 19 year-old students and drove us from precinct to precinct to cast our votes for the first time.
So I was raised and educated to value to vote. But when I stop to think about my own family’s history, I value our right to exercise the vote even more.
My mother comes from an island that has been under the rule of communism for her entire life. My grandparents just wanted to come to the United States to raise their two daughters in a better land. As a result of their first attempt to leave Cuba, my grandfather ended up in prison for three years. Eventually my mom’s family did make it to the U.S., and they have constantly imbibed in me the privileges I have here that my relatives do not, including the right to vote for the people who make the laws that we live under.
My father is of mixed heritage, with his family strongly identifying as African-American. As a result, the history surrounding the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth leading up to it) is personally very important to me, as is the history of the Civil Rights Movement that sought to ensure the rights protected by the Constitution were actually respected. Because of the Fifteenth Amendment, it does not matter what color I am or what my family’s history is, people like me can vote.
Although, that’s not 100% true. Because I am also a woman, and women did not have the right to vote until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. In fact, Congress made the conscious decision not to make suffrage universal when they passed the Fifteenth Amendment, much to the chagrin of the women’s movement at the time.
I watched a PBS documentary, One Woman One Vote, a few years back about the struggle for women to gain the vote, and it was deeply moving. I had no idea the persecution so many women faced or the sacrifices they made so that they could have a say in the way their country was run.
Incidentally, the right to vote was one of the only things that two different strands of women’s rights activists agree on. Women are divided to this day on how the law should treat us. Some think the law should treat women as complete equals, treating men and women exactly the same in every respect. Others think that there are real differences between men and women and the law should take these into account. But both sides agreed on one thing: women should vote. Look where that unity of purpose has gotten us today. Women voters are now one of the most sought after voting blocks in current elections. About a month ago I heard Tom Brokaw say on Meet the Press that this is the century of women. That’s why we get so much talk about things like contraception, the economy, and binders full of women. Because women’s votes count. As a woman, I think that’s awesome.
It’s been 20 years since I first “voted,” and 10 years since I cast my first real ballot. I am cognizant of the fact that this is a right and privilege I have that I would not have had even in this country if I had been born at a different time, or if I would have been born in the land of my ancestry. So I take voting seriously, and carefully consider each line of the ballot ahead of time. If I’m going to use my vote, I want to use it wisely. If you decide to vote, I hope you would do the same.