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Bishop's Monday Message: Vote!

Posted: October 19 2020 at 09:21 AM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck

En Español

I voted! Have you? Will you?

I want to encourage you now to make sure that you participate in the upcoming election. It is yet another way to make your voice count, just as taking the census was. 

I think it’s helpful to note that “free and fair” elections have not always been the way of our American democracy. A very brief history shows how we have had to address injustice—usually gender and racial injustice—since the beginning of our country.

The first step toward “free and fair” elections began in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was passed, no longer denying the right to vote based on race, but the 15th Amendment only allowed African American men to vote. Soon other voter restrictions were put into effect in some states and the beginning of Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised Blacks from voting well into the 20th century.

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which made it unconstitutional to deny women the right to vote This movement began in the 1800s, and only one woman who was at the Seneca Falls launch to the campaign lived long enough to see the 19th Amendment ratified. It was more than a lifetime struggle. And of course, we know that it didn’t provide for women of color even though they were part of the movement to allow women to vote. Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924 but since the privileges of citizenship were governed by states, many states with a high number of Native Americans didn’t allow them to vote. Finally, in 1948 the Supreme Court granted Native Americans the right to vote if other restrictions and limitations—like the distance to a polling station, for instance, as occurred on some reservations—didn’t cancel out the privilege.

It was the 24th Amendment that said you didn’t have to be wealthy to vote. Prior to that, there was often a poll tax on voting so that every voter had to pay for the privilege to vote. This excluded many people of color and people living in poverty.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was needed because there were still voter suppression tactics to keep minorities and women from voting in various states. The Act still protects the right to vote for people of color and non-English speakers, but that hasn’t stopped some states from inventing new voter restrictions, such as ID laws, registration restrictions and voter purges.

In 1971, “old enough to fight in the military, then old enough to vote” became the 26th Amendment.  Young men were being drafted to fight in wars when they were 18, specifically Vietnam at the time, and it was deemed “fair” to allow them at least to be able to vote if they were going to fight.

Not an amendment but a movement to make sure that Latino voters were mobilized to vote grew in 1974 under the motto,“your vote is your voice.” It was a registration education project to get millions of Latinos registered to vote.

In 1970, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensured that there were no barriers for people with disabilities in voting. Every polling station has to be accessible to all people as well as the process for registration. In the 2016 election, however, two-thirds of the polling stations were inspected and found to have at least one barrier for people with disabilities.

This is a short history of our nation’s march toward “fair and free” elections. Most of the constitutional and other changes had to do with inclusiveness of all people, all citizens to vote. But there are still states that are trying to limit or restrict voting, which usually impacts people of color, those who live in poverty and also those with some kind of incarceration history.

As United Methodists, we have advocated for “free and fair” elections in our own country and others over the years. A quick search of our 2016-2020 Book of Resolutions reveals that we advocate for “nondiscrimination in voting” when it comes to people who have historically been underrepresented and marginalized by race or poverty and that voting not require “English only.” There are numerous references to include voting rights for people who have been incarcerated or who have a criminal record, and for people who are permanent residents of the District of Columbia. I haven’t done a search of the legislation for the 2020 General Conference, but I would imagine that even more emphasis would be placed on preventing voter suppression.

Having said all this, most of us vote on the backs of those who have gone before us: women, Blacks, other people of color, poor people and those who tried for years and years to be allowed to vote rightfully under the Constitution but who were treated with a total lack of respect and forced to answer questions to qualify that none of us would be able to answer.  

While the apostle Paul lived under a very different government (Rome), he admonished the early Christians to be good citizens. One way to be a good neighbor is to be a good citizen and good citizens vote for the values that they hold. As Christians and United Methodists, we have values for peace and justice and inclusion. Not to vote is to squander a privilege that others have fought for with their lives and throughout their lifetimes. Voting is an act of justice that we keep building upon as we “see all the people” in our country and ensure that all people are counted and have a voice.

I voted! Will you?


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