Citizenship is not a spectator sport. Register and vote.

PerrymanDavidOp-Ed By State Rep. David Perryman

When my cousin and his classmates went to Vietnam in the 1960s, the government felt like he was old enough to fight but not to weigh in on matters like whether the country should go to war.

The right to vote is historically a tricky subject. From an equitable perspective (the way that we should look at all things) the right to participate in fair and free elections should be unfettered. That has not always been the case – and evidence is mounting that it is not the case today.

Artificial impediments have been used for centuries to disenfranchise citizens or dilute their votes. Those in power in any republic try to control who votes or who may be elected.

Even after the Declaration of Independence, a number of colonies used religious tests to prohibit certain persons from holding office. To hold office in Delaware, South Carolina and Georgia, one had to be of the Protestant faith and some states required an affirmation of belief in Jesus Christ and the infallibility of the scriptures. Not until 1828 did Maryland allow those of the Jewish faith to vote or to be elected to office.

During the United States Constitutional Convention, the 3/5 Compromise was reached whereby the population count of each state would include all free people, taxpaying Indians and 3/5 of the total of “all other persons.” This compromise was between convention delegates from slave states who wanted to maximize the number of slave state congressmen and free-state delegates who were opposed to counting slaves, who were not allowed to vote. The compromise inured to the benefit of white men in slave states who received greater congressional representation.

The 3/5 clause was nullified in 1865 and everyone except non-taxed Indians was counted beginning in 1868. However, even after the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1870) gave African American voters the legal right to vote, southern states persisted in obstructing that right by imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and a host of other technicalities (and often intimidation or physical harm) to defy the law of the land.

For nearly 50 years after African Americans received the legal (but not always the actual) right to vote, many states delayed conferring that right on women of any race. Enactment of the 19th Amendment (1920) changed that only 96 years ago.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, fifty-one years ago this month, to end what had remained widespread interference in the voting rights of minorities, but it was nearly six more years until the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed 18-year-old men and women to vote, and even then it was no thanks to Oklahoma, which had long since labored under the ultra-conservative influence of the Daily Oklahoman and its premier national columnist, Oklahoma-born James J. Kilpatrick.

Forty-five years later, under the guise of preventing voter fraud, many states have drifted back into practices of hindering voter participation. No one condones voter fraud, but there are ways to prevent it without throwing up obstacles, particularly during this era of apathy where fewer than one in five persons of eligible voting age even goes to the polls.

No republic will survive when its citizens refuse to participate. No republic will survive when its government does not act in the best interest of its citizens. Freedom is not free. Citizenship is not a spectator sport. Register and vote so your voice may be heard.

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