Cast your vote and complain

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 3, 2004

The one who leads our government is picked by all of us.

So if we fail to cast our votes, we have no right to fuss.

I am the product of a mixed marriage. My mother was a Baptist descended from a long line of Democrats and my father was a Catholic from a Republican family. While most peace-loving folks avoid discussing religion and politics, my family reveled in their differences.

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My grandfathers delighted in telling people that they intended to cancel out each other’s vote. They even stooped to stealthily staking their favored candidates’ posters in front of each other’s house and business. The one thing they both agreed on was that it was important to support a candidate and cast a ballot.

My grandmother told me &uot; Honey, if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain when they do something stupid. Now, that would just about kill me, so I make sure I vote.&uot; She could recall when women were banned from the polling places. She was just sixteen years old in 1920 when the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the ballot.

When a local or national election rolled around, Grandma gathered the women of her church and her neighborhood for a get-out-the-vote effort. They sat around her long dining room table stuffing envelopes and staffing a telephone bank to remind people to register to vote.

My grandfather offered personal support as her recruits paid their money and took the required literacy test. As I sat at the table with my grandmother and accompanied my grandfather on his trips, I received my first lessons in the democratic process.

My mother continued the lesson by taking my brother and me to the poll with her and allowing us to watch as she marked her paper ballot and placed it in the ballot box.

The fire station, where my neighborhood voted, seemed such an exciting place on Election Day.

Because of my grandparents’ volunteer activity, I recognized many of the poll workers and sometimes was allowed to stand with them a while and hand out sample ballots.

This year is an important election year. We have the privilege of selecting the President and Vice president for this great country.

So many of us who were once denied the right to cast a ballot can now vote. When George Washington was elected our first president in 1789, only adult males who owned property could cast a ballot. Women, men who owned no property, African Americans, Native Americans and persons under the age of twenty-one were denied the right to vote.

In 1870, the 15th amendment prohibited withholding the vote from persons because of their race or ethnicity, and Native Americans were empowered to vote by an act of Congress in 1924 which made them citizens of the United States. But the application of literacy tests and the required payment of a poll tax discouraged many African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants from participating in elections. Even if they could read, write, and pay the poll tax, men and women who were under the age of twenty-one were barred from voting.

During the Vietnam War many of us chanted &uot;Old enough to die, but not old enough to vote!&uot;

In 1964, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, and the twentieth amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971.

So, now what is our excuse? Is it too much trouble to get down to the registrars office and register?

The deadline for registration to vote in this year’s presidential election is Oct. 4.

If we are not already registered voters, I bet there is one day between now and then each of us can find the time to stop by the new office at 425 Washington Street, Suite 4 and fill out the minimal paper work.

If you are going to be out of town on Election Day, an application for an absentee ballot is available by calling the registrar’s office at 923-3690 or it may be downloaded from the City of Suffolk Web site. It would be great if every eligible Suffolk citizen cast a vote and complained like the devil when our officials did something stupid. I imagine, no matter who is elected, we will have an opportunity to complain. And, like Grandma, it would just kill me to remain silent.

Beverly Outlaw is a Suffolk resident and a regular News-Herald columnist.