Two enduring memories of my youth revolve around voting. I remember going to the Voter Registration office in Columbia, South Carolina with my mother and aunt when I was in elementary school. My aunt lived out-of-state for years, but came back to Columbia and wanted to register to vote.
Prior to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the State of South Carolina required those registering to vote to prove that they could read. The white lady in line in front of us was given a copy of the day’s newspaper to read, and she did so easily. When my aunt stepped up to the window, she was given a volume of the Code of Laws of the State of South Carolina and asked to read and interpret a passage. When she did so, the Registrar turned a lovely shade of red and reluctantly issued her a voter registration card.
I also remember taking one of my older aunts to the polls when I was in high school, had just gotten my driver’s license and was glad to drive anyone anywhere! She had health problems and walked with the aid of a three pronged cane in the days before “walkers.” The poll workers offered to either bring a ballot to the car or allow her to step up and avoid standing in line, but she insisted on waiting her turn and said, “I couldn’t do this for so many years, I want to enjoy it now.”
I was a witness to a revolution when it came to all citizens having the right to vote and remember the lengths that many citizens went to simply to cast their ballots. Maybe that’s why I get angry today when people take that right for granted and am outraged when I hear anyone say that they didn’t go to the polls on election day because one vote won’t make a difference.
I remember when a candidate for Columbia’s Richland County Council lost by one single vote that changed the composition and direction of County Council in a way that took years to fix. I remember when the 2000 Presidential election was determined by a handful of disputed Florida votes that made George W. Bush the President of the United States. I remember when Nelson Mandela went from being a political prisoner to become the President of the Republic of South Africa and the pictures of elderly and infirm South Africans who walked for miles and stood in line outdoors all day to cast a vote for the first time in their lives.
Every vote matters. That’s why South Carolina and many other states reacted to the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States by passing laws that make it harder for many citizens to register and vote. Those who can’t accept the reality of a black President are trying hard to eliminate those voters most likely to re-elect the President or elect other candidates who will do more than “business as usual.”
Thankfully, many of those laws, including South Carolina’s, did not pass muster with the Justice Department. South Carolina went to Court to appeal, and the result was that South Carolina’s law won’t go into effect until January 2013, so the same identification used in every election thus far is still good for Nov ember 6, 2012. The other result is that South Carolina “backpedaled” on how the law would be enforced, so much so that the law now has no meaning, even when it goes into effect.
Every registered voter can now either vote early by absentee ballot or go to the polls on election day without hindrance, and I hope that every voter does so, because what we do on election day does matter. Those who vote will exercise a precious right and help to shape out state and nation. Those who don’t will simply be letting others speak for them, and too many people suffered and died for us to do that and take our vote for granted.
Take the time to have your say and cast your vote. If you don’t and if those who want to turn back the clock of progress are elected, then it does no good to complain after the fact, for as the old saying goes, “if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.”