Voting is too important to ignore

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Chelsea Speight

As early as seventh grade, I could not wait to turn 18 so I could vote. I wasn’t concerned with government, but I couldn’t wait to vote.

I remember watching a 2004 debate between President George W. Bush and John Kerry with my dad. At the time, it seemed like two men moving their hands around a lot and bickering with one another.

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In the 2008 election, I was a freshman in high school and still flustered that I couldn’t vote. For one of the most influential elections in history, I was stuck in my room doing algebra homework.

Finally 18 by Election Day 2012, I was standing in line bright and early waiting for the polls to open. I expected to see more people my age exercising their right to vote. Granted, I was there around 5 in the morning, so I didn’t expect an abundance of 18-year-olds swarming to the polls. But I expected more.

Waiting in line, everyone was talking about how cold it was and complaining about how long it was taking for them to open the doors. One by one, we moved closer to the moment where we would decide on the next president of the United States. I was proud to be there. I entered the booth, looked at the ballot and smiled. I was voting.

I’m now a sophomore in a college political science class with 300 people. Someone reminded everyone recently that we’re electing a new governor in November. He passed around a clipboard with voter registration applications attached and urged the importance of our vote.

I saw nearly 100 people pass the clipboard without a glance. Some may already have been registered, but I could tell by their faces that most simply didn’t care. I was baffled and then angry. I couldn’t imagine why they would give up their vote.

My generation doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate what it means to be able to vote. More than 200 years ago, a group of men sat in a small room with no air conditioning, wearing wigs, and discussing the regulations for a voting system. There was nothing like it; for once, the people were going to choose their leader. The people had the power.

The original voting system was flawed, excluding African-Americans and women. But in 1870 African-American men were given the right to vote with the 15th amendment, and women were granted rights in 1920 with the 19th amendment. In 1971, the 26th amendment moved the age requirement to 18.

Student activists who were protesting the Vietnam War — and also happened to serve in the war — put enough pressure on Congress so that an amendment was passed to change the voting age. Those students demanded their voices be heard, yet now many students choose not have a voice.

But countries run by dictators and communists envy this process that we now find insignificant. The people of those countries long for the opportunities that we have. They dream of the right to choose their government.

Election Day is a beautiful day, not only because we’re choosing a new government, but also because we’re celebrating our rights, freedom and history. We’re celebrating everything good that makes us Americans.

I once attended an event with a guest speaker who spoke about voter turnout. He said Election Day should be celebrated! People should have the day off from work and school, and there should be as much excitement as the Super Bowl. I couldn’t agree more.

That’s why, on Election Day 2016, I plan to throw a huge party for all my friends and family to celebrate the day, a party with food and games — and your ticket to get in will be a sticker that says: “Today, I Voted!”

Chelsea Speight, of Suffolk, is a political science and communications major at Virginia Commonwealth University. She maintains a blog at www.chelseaspeight.com and can be reached at chelseasp8@yahoo.com.