In the early 1970s, a movement grew to drop the legal voting age from 21 to 18.
At least a couple of schools of thought contributed to the initiative.
One was that individuals who had realized the age of 18, who usually would be graduating from high school around that time in their lives, had the maturity and intelligence to participate in elections.
The other was if that you were being drafted to go and die in the Vietnam War, as many 19-year-olds were doing, you should at least have a say in the political decision behind that policy.
The new minimum age took effect. Young people were thrilled. Now they could have an effective say in government.
An Enterprise employee remembers registering as soon as he could. The following year, while attending college away from home, he cast an absentee ballot in the Carter-Ford presidential race of 1976.
Now he and others his age who had voted were full citizens, as much as Americans who were 30 or 50 or 70.
Lowering the voting age was something that America had done right after a decade in which it had done so much wrong.
After a few more years of life, however, the employee became aware of a curious phenomenon: there were people who were old enough to register to vote, but hadn’t! And there were people who had registered to vote, but didn’t!
Of course you vote. How could anyone even think of not voting?
Voting had been hard-wired into his genetic core. His ethnic ancestry included Irish Catholics who were grimly aware that American Protestants had not been thrilled that they had shown up, Polish Catholics who were thankful to be out of the clutches of the Russian czar, and English Protestants glad to be out of the clutches of the British king.
To all of them—creators of a nation and newer immigrants who had long been disenfranchised—America held an amazing promise: a place where you could have a say in how it was run.
The European immigrants who squeezed themselves into the slums of the Northeastern cities got it (much to the dismay of the Yankee power structure).
And the former slaves of the American South who were enfranchised following the Civil War got it (much to the dismay of the Southern white power structure).
Southern Blacks got to exercise their electoral rights for about a decade until the Northern Republicans, in 1877, sold them down the political river in a cynical deal to secure the presidential election.
The federal government deliberately looked away as Southern whites imposed decades of Jim Crow, taking care to make certain that Blacks wouldn’t be allowed to vote.
It would take the power of the federal government more than 75 years later to start to undo that sin.
So here we are in 2020, 244 years into the American experiment, and the vote—the absolute bedrock of the Republic, even more than the Constitution—is under the most dire threat of our existence.
The current president has not promised to abide by the results of the November 3 general election. He says that mail-in ballots pose the potential of widespread fraud (although no such fraud had been found and he, incidentally, votes by mail-in ballot).
Further, given the intention of millions of Americans in this time of covid to use mail-in ballots, with attendant delays in some states, the election outcome may not be apparent on Election Night, or for some time thereafter. At the outset, the current president may be ahead based on Election Day, in-person voting.
With that in mind, some backers of the Democratic nominee for president are calling on his supporters to not vote by mail, but to make a point of putting on their mask and voting in-person on Election Day.
It has come to this: it is no longer enough to cast your ballot in any legal way possible to have your vote count. You now have to vote in a particular way.
And even then it might not count.
The Republicans under the current president are in a sticky place. They know that the majority of Americans do not support their policies; the only way to keep power is by keeping the vote count low by any means necessary, and bet on the Electoral College’s inherent unfairness and an Amy Coney Barrett-infused Supreme Court to keep the president in office.
If anything, the current election has driven home the importance of voting, the crucial tool of democracy that so many Americans have taken so lightly for so long.
A year before his death, American civil rights icon John Lewis spoke of the vote, a right for which he suffered personal injury to help realize.
“I have said this before, and I will say it again,” Congressman Lewis said in June 2019. “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”