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Few rights in our republic are more cherished than the right to select our governmental leaders at the ballot box.
Yet even as we cast our votes in early voting, and the rest of us Nov. 6, how much thought have we given to this special privilege and duty of a U.S. citizen?
Likely not much. In our lifetimes, the ability to pick our leaders is taken for granted. It may be why so many get their dander up when anyone tries to change voter requirements. And why those in other nations who have earned this precious right after years of oppression see it as a newfound symbol of freedom.
That has been the case at times in our own past. Originally, only white male landowners could vote for office. In fact, the right to vote is not openly provided for in the U.S. Constitution, at least not in so many words. It states that the “electors” of each state should select members of the House of Representatives, leaving up to the states who qualifies to do so. Senators originally were chosen by state legislatures, then by popular vote when the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913. Other amendments eliminated voter discrimination on the basis of one’s race or sex and included anyone age 18 and over.
Perhaps our Founding Fathers saw voting as a God-given right, like others not enumerated in the Constitution, and did not feel the need to spell it out.
Though be aware that when you cast your ballot for president, you are technically not voting for Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney or Libertarian Gary Johnson. Instead, you vote for a slate of “electors” chosen by each state’s party to cast their votes for the candidate. Georgia has 15 such votes (up to 16 in 2016), one for each member of our congressional delegation. They will join the Electoral College that will officially choose the next president.
Those who remember the 2000 election will recall that George W. Bush won a slim majority of the electoral vote even as he lost the popular vote to Al Gore, the fourth time that has occurred in U.S. history.
While some would like to send the Electoral College to the scrap heap, rest assured it is here to stay; it takes a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress, then three-quarters of state legislatures to amend the Constitution to change this practice, all of which are unlikely.
What happens if a candidate does not get a majority of at least 270 electoral votes? In case of a 269-269 tie, or if a third candidate prevents a majority, the choice falls to the U.S. House, as has happened twice before. The Senate chooses a vice president. Though some refer to this scenario as a “constitutional crisis,” it’s right there in black and white. Follow the rules, live by the result, as lawful societies do.
That aside, voting has changed, and mostly for the better. After the stalemated 2000 election, in which confusing ballots and “hanging chads” led to the seemingly endless Florida recount, Georgia and most other states went to electronic voting machines to eliminate such issues.
Also, the rise of early voting has caught on nationwide, most states allowing citizens to cast ballots weeks in advance for their convenience. Georgia opens the polls for three weeks, including one Saturday. This year, thousands of Georgians have flocked to the polls, some drawing longer lines than seen on Election Day. Clearly, voters like the ability to cast a ballot when it best fits their schedule.
Columnist Jonah Goldberg has weighed in against the practice of early voting, preferring the shared experience of Election Day, and the concern that some event in the closing days of a campaign could change voters’ mind after their ballots are cast. He has a point, though the chances of that are slim since, as he states, most of those who vote early are solid in their convictions and unlikely to be swayed.
We do agree that voting shouldn’t be so easy that committed Americans aren’t willing to make some degree of effort. It starts with learning about the issues and candidates. Then comes the process of registration and taking the time to fit voting into our busy schedules.
Yet the bit of extra convenience that early voting provides doesn’t take away from that dedication, and may encourage more to turn out. Anything that gets people involved and interested in the process is worth preserving. That’s why we encourage new and better ways to register voters. And while we support photo ID requirements to head off potential fraud, we think states should ensure that everyone has access to such a card, if needed.
Voting is the healthy exercise of our democracy, toning the muscles of our liberty as we decide who will occupy the offices our Constitution creates. It makes us feel as if we’re contributing our own small piece to the national puzzle.
If ours is truly to be a government “of the people,” then the people have to be heard. The ballot box is where that happens. The right to vote is the foundation upon which the nation and its government is built. It is a right that cannot be taken for granted, as those living under despots and dictators around the world can attest.
We hope you are registered, that you are engaged in the campaigns and issues and will take the time to vote, this week or on Nov. 6. For your voice to be heard, you need to clear your throat and speak up loudly, this time with your index finger on a plastic screen. Nothing is more important to the well-being of a free society than that small act of patriotism.