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For many, the right to vote was won only after many battles over many years

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Posted: Sunday, November 2, 2008 10:00 pm

Suffrage - the right to vote in a political election. On the eve of our nation's Election Day, I thought it would be important to examine this right because for many of you, this right has not always been absolute and I don't think it should be taken lightly.

No, I'm not talking about reading your voter pamphlet from front to back so you can be informed. Rather, I am just talking about the right to vote.

If you are about my age, 44, or younger, I am sure you look at voting somewhat like getting your license to drive. You turn 18, you register to vote and on Election Day you vote or you don't. No big deal. History, however, says it is a big deal and it also shows that a lot of people don't care about it.

Until preparing for this column, I thought that the United States Constitution guaranteed voting, and it does - but it's not that simple. It took four amendments to the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a 1966 Supreme Court decision for the Constitution to guarantee suffrage for everyone. So, the Constitution was nearly 180 years old and was amended 24 times before all citizens had suffrage.

People without suffrage fought for it and for that, I think you should vote. I don't care who or what you vote for, just vote. Please don't say that your vote doesn't matter, because it does. Take a look at what it took to make sure you get to vote:

  • The 15th Amendment prohibits laws preventing a citizen from voting based on race, color or previous condition of servitude, slavery. While it was ratified in 1870, it took until 1997 for Tennessee to ratify it. Heck, California didn't come on board until 1962.
  • If you're a woman, you can thank those who fought for your rights, but they weren't successful until 1920. And even then it was with the minimum number of states approving it, 36 states out of the then 48. Those good folks in Mississippi didn't vote to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984. Thank goodness it didn't matter.
  • If you were poor - black or white - your right to vote was not protected until 1966. That's right, 1966. Think about that. If you lived in Virginia in 1964 and were poor, whether you were black or white, you could have been prohibited from voting because of your inability to pay the poll tax. That was just 44 years ago.
  • For those of you in the 18 to 20 year range, you would have to wait a few more years to vote if not for the 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, so take advantage of it.

Tomorrow's election will be historic for our country regardless of the outcome. If you are a registered voter and choose not to vote, I bet you will be disappointed. It may take a week, a month or a year but I bet you will be disappointed. I know some of you won't be able to get to the polls and I am sorry.

The polls open tomorrow at 7 a.m. and they don't close until 8 p.m.

In the 2006 election, about 52 percent of the registered voters in San Joaquin County voted. In Lodi, the percentage was higher but not by much. We can and should do better.

John Johnson, CFA, is a Lodi-based business appraiser. Contact him at john@johnejohnson.com or at 369-1451.

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