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DYK - Your Vote Counts

Posted: September 1 2020 at 12:00 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson,


Womanssuffrage

Women march in the 1913 Women Suffrage Procession in Washington. Methodist women played a significant role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Photo from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In mid-March, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, I struggled with an important decision. Illinois was conducting a primary election, it was too late to cast a mail-in ballot, we were on the verge of the state’s Stay-at-Home Order, but I wanted to vote. I may be one of more than 8 million eligible voters in our state, but exercising my right to vote and expressing my voice at the ballot box is a precious responsibility. I went to the polls that morning just as they opened. The precinct had taken precautions—the voting booths were distanced and hand sanitizer was available—and I felt good that I had exercised my civic responsibility.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified on August 18, 1920–100 years ago. The amendment granted American women the right to vote and ended a 75-year campaign for suffrage. The 15th Amendment was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870, 150 years ago, giving African American men the right to vote. Both these amendments came with great sacrifice and dedicated persistence.  

Women suffragettes spent 75 years working for the right to vote. Most of the early leaders in the movement did not live to see the victory. Brutal beatings, imprisonment, hunger strikes, forced feedings, demonstrations, marches, rallies, and political campaigns all culminated in the 19th Amendment.

The right to vote did not come easily and has not always been secure. After the Civil War granted freedom to slaves, new, subtler forms of racism evolved. The 15th Amendment’s intentions were thwarted by state and local discriminatory practices: poll taxes, literacy tests and a variety of barriers that kept African American men from exercising their rights.

It was almost another 100 years before the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to ensure that the voting amendments in the U.S. Constitution were applied equally from state to state.  The Voting Rights Act was a direct outcome of the civil rights movement.

As far as we have come, even now exercising our right in voting at the polls is fragile and at times threatened. As recently as 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act. Legislation to address the gaps in our voting rights has not yet been ratified.

In an article published after his death in July, Congressman John Lewis, a tireless advocate for civil rights who helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act, reminded us “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed.  You can lose it.”

I am making my plans now to cast my ballot in the November 3 elections. None of us knows what the polls will look like in three months, so I am casting a ballot by mail. I vote out of duty, out of respect for those who fought and sacrificed to give me this right and responsibility. I vote out of a grounding in faith that calls me to give voice through my actions to the greater good of humankind. 

Join me in making your plans now. Register to vote by October 18: you can do so online. Plan your trip to the polls; put it on your calendar or sign up to vote by mail to ensure your voice—your vote—counts. 

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