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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Freedom, The Constitution, and The Vote*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 16, 2010
as "The Right to Vote"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

On July 4, 1776 a group of British ex-patriots declared to the world the intent to become a sovereign nation. Twenty-one years later, after a year of vigorous debate and hard work, a remarkable document emerged, one of the most profound, influential, and far-reaching of any since the Magna Carta.

The Constitution of the United States embodies the supreme law of the United States. It was a model of a citizen-led government, the meaning, focus, and intent proudly stated at the top of the page: “We the People.” Over the 221 years since ratification, 27 amendments have been added to the original document, the most crucial of those being the Bill of Rights.

One of the most precious and vigorously guarded rights of our citizenry is the right to vote. But that particular right is not enumerated in the original Constitution or the Bill of Rights. In fact, it isn’t specifically addressed until Amendments 15, 19, 24, and 26. This nation operated on a system of free elections for 100 years without a Constitutional mandate. Granted, at first only free white male landowners were allowed to cast ballots, but over the years, restrictions on race, class, and wealth were removed. Today, any citizen of the United States, who hasn’t been convicted of a felony, is allowed to register and vote in any election, whether federal, state, or local.

The power of the popular vote has shaped our history. Significant changes in the philosophy and direction of the United States have been ordered through elections. While control of the congress by one party existed for some 40 years in the 20th century, since 1994 that control has shifted at least three times, on two of those occasions, granting the controlling party significant majorities in both houses. And by all accounts, the next two may also result in sweeping changes.

In recent years, we have watched as veteran legislators who had held their seats for decades, were “fired” by their constituents, including a sitting Senate Majority Leader.

Clearly, American voters have significantly affected the ebb and flow of political power. And yet, many still complain that their individual votes are meaningless in the face of the powerful forces of special interest.

We face an upcoming election in the face of one of the most trying economic periods in our history. Americans will be tasked with making crucial choices, ones that will profoundly affect our future. As the world economies breathe as one with ours, the consequences of those choices are now global in nature.

With all this at stake, our lackadaisical approach to elections seems strange. European elections regularly turn out 80% of registered voters, while we can barely muster 55% for presidential elections, and only 30% for the congressional votes.

Congress makes the laws, establishes the tax rates and rules. It appropriates and spends our tax dollars.  What they do affects us all on a daily basis. The President is the leader of our government, but everything he or she does has to be ratified by the Congress. Appointments, nominations, budgets, trade policy, treaties and pacts, and any spending at all by the executive branch requires the okay of the legislature. Based on those facts, the congressional elections should be the most important.

The sad truth is that a disturbing number of Americans clearly do not understand how their own government works, or seem at all interested in finding out. That willful ignorance has become a punchline for late-night comics. We laugh because we don’t understand that an electorate that knows little and cares even less is at risk from those of darker intent.

Having rights means also having responsibility. In the case of voting, this means becoming educated on the issues. Campaigns are full of lies. Everyone knows this. It is up to us to aggressively seek the truth and act on it.

A vote is a statement of individual principal; a declaration that we have value and power. The voting booth is an outpost on the front lines of the Constitution, the voter standing watch over our precious freedoms.

You are an American. You have a vote. For the sake of your present, and a future for those who follow, prepare yourself. Exercise your right to vote.

The Constitution insures that it is not Washington that holds the power.

We the People hold the power; and bear the responsibility.
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