I may be in Norway for this election, but I voted absentee before I left. That’s my ballot in the yellow envelope in my hand. Voting is a right far, far too critical for anything else to take precedence. Neither rain, nor snow, nor Oslo:)
It profoundly saddened me to walk beneath the flags at half-staff to honor the Jewish people slaughtered in Pittsburgh in order to cast my ballot, but it reminded me in dramatic fashion why voting is so incredibly important.
People Died for Your Right to Vote
February 3, 1870 – that’s the day that the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed black people, people of mixed race, or people that had once been slaves the right to vote. Yes, every sort of intimidation tactic imaginable was used to prevent this body of Americans from voting.
This 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon shows everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table portrayed as equals…well, except the women at the table still weren’t able to vote, nor would they be for another half century.
Why? People in charge were afraid of the outcome of how women or “people of color” might vote. They feared that the sheer number of “other” people’s votes would outnumber their own if those disenfranchised individuals were allowed to vote for representatives and policies that benefitted them. In other words, if everyone that was not a male of pure European descent were able to vote – the control that men of purely European descent exercised over women and everyone of mixed ethnicity would either be diminished or disappear entirely. You can read more about voting rights in America here.
When you discover that your ancestors with so much as “one drop” of non-European blood passed for white as soon as possible, and hid other lineages – this history might give you a clue as to why. Other terribly discriminatory laws and practices related to employment, property ownership and many other rights persisted until as late as 1965 and even though the laws became obsolete then, the practices did not. Even today, the political practice of gerrymandering routinely structures voting districts in a fashion to benefit some and disadvantage others.
Native American people and voting rights – that history is even worse. In order for the original disenfranchised inhabitants of this land to obtain the right to vote, they were required to give up their tribal lands beginning in 1887. However, their right to vote was consistently challenged. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created to enforce the 14th and 15th constitutional amendments should have ended all controversy, but since then at least 74 lawsuits have been filed with the intention of disenfranchising Native American Voters.
August 26, 1920 – that’s the day in the US that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.
If you think any of this came easy, it didn’t.
There were marches, protests, jailed protesters while picketing the White House, violence, beatings, lynchings and widespread intimidation. In fact, here’s a gallery of Suffragette prisoners.
If you get the feeling that voting rights are always at least marginally in some form of jeopardy, I’d have to agree. It seems there is always a group of people who would be all too happy to remove the right to vote from another group.
Disenfranchisement is still way too close in my family.
Neither of my grandmothers were allowed to vote until they were adults. Ollie Bolton would have been 44 in 1920 and Edith Lore, 32. I hope they both proudly voted.
My father wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, and neither would his Estes side of the family if the truth were known about their mixed race lineage. They were painfully aware of this situation. Neither would my mother’s grandfather’s line. He was mixed too.
That leaves just my paternal grandmother’s male line and my maternal grandfather’s Dutch and male German lines with the ability to vote. Of course, my Dutch great-grandfather was the immigrant who, ironically, arrived like so many others due to religious discrimination back home.
In other words, more than half of my tree was disenfranchised because they were women, and of the remainder, another half would have been prevented from voting because of their heritage. At one time, only white male property owners over the age of 21 could vote, on top of the other restrictions. More than 75% of my ancestors were disenfranchised one way or another, and that’s not counting the ones who were living in other countries or deported from Canada in 1755 because they were Catholic.
Historically, it seems that voting wasn’t really a right after all, but a privilege restricted to the while, land-owning elite. By and large, they intended to keep it that way too.
I have the ability to vote, thanks to a very long history of sacrifices, and it’s my responsibility to do so.
The Long Road
So here we are, 98 years after women obtained the right to vote, facing a difficult election.
The 2016 US election was the most contentious in living memory, at least in my life, with a very divisive outcome. The sitting president ascended to power not with the majority of popular votes, but with the votes of the electoral college. Translated, this means that based on political districts, in the US, one vote really does not equal one vote today because some districts have more electoral votes than others. You can read more about the electoral college and how it works here.
Regardless of whether we like the system we have in place today, regardless of who wins or loses, it’s what we have to work with. It’s incredibly important that everyone who has the right votes. Apathy is simply putting your future into the hands of the party that happens to get elected, without even so much as a peep out of you. My rule – if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain.
If everyone who didn’t vote in the last election HAD voted, then perhaps either there would have been a clear winner by popular vote (as well as electoral college,) or a different outcome might have occurred altogether.
If everyone who voted for a third-party candidate had voted for one of the two candidates who was going to win, again, either there might have been a clear popular winner, or a different winner. Either outcome, I think, would have been less divisive.
Voting rights were too difficult to obtain not to cherish and utilize them.
Everyone who descends from a Revolutionary War soldier is descended from someone who fought in order that they, and their descendants, would have voting rights, fair representation and a say in their own outcome.
Descended from slaves or Native Americans or soldiers who fought for the North during the (not so) Civil War? They voted with their blood for your right to cast a ballot today.
Family members who fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm or the military actions since? Those men and women are commanded by the President, a person voted into power through the votes of you and me.
Voting is the political Facebook. Talking isn’t enough. Nothing matters except for your vote.
People shed blood and died for your right to vote. Your ancestors may have given their lives or served their country in order to preserve that right. Our service members today are doing that very thing.
Vote like your life depends on it, because it may. The lives of our service men and women certainly do. The lives of your descendants will.
It’s your right and your responsibility.
November 6th, for the honor of your ancestors and hope for our collective future…
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Thank you for taking the time to write this post and send it to your readers. It’s so important, even if it may seem like it’s off topic. Our future generations are in our hands and voting is the best way we have to ensure we have fair elections going forward. Just like all our DNA research helps us figure out who we are and how we identify in the world, our votes decide who we are as a country. And that question of “Who are we?” has been haunting me these past many months. The only way we can answer that is with our vote.
Right on!!!! I wish you a safe and productive trip to Oslo and the results you desired when you voted. I will be voting, too.
I’m in the UK so obviously it’s not my election. Here, we’re marking 100 years since some women (and almost all men) first got the vote.
For the sake of all those women and men who campaigned for universal suffrage… please use your vote next week in the USA if you have one.
I agree, from Australia. Over here in OZ and NZ it is Law that everyone must vote or be Fined for not doing so! Actually back in late 1972 there was that Gerrymandering going on that you mention where the National Party changed the boundaries of all different districts, as all the Samoan people who were working in NZ on Visa and then were allowed to vote were going to vote for Labor. Turned out there were twice as many votes for Labor to National, but because of the changes to the districts national got back in. That was Robert MULDOON who did that!
I also hear that the Klu Klux Klan still are around as one of the people over there I know grew up with the Leader. Then there is the Gun Party over there, who now appear to have moved into Queensland and are selling all types of guns to the people, even though it is against the Law over here to own a weapon unless you have a reason for it, like Farmers etc. Their guns are automatic and semi automatic which no one is permitted to own! Same goes for pistols unless you are a Security/Police Officer.
Anyhow all of you go out and make a difference to America by voting for whom you think will make a difference to your country. It is not an easy task but if you get it right life will be that much easier.
What a poignant and heartfelt post. Ironically, my DNA tells me that my very racist Deep South relatives would not have been able to vote either, and would have been shocked to know they had more than “one drop” of “non-white” blood (whatever that even means). If nothing else, DNA should help people see we all belong at the table.
Totally agree with you. Have a great trip.
Thank you for this important message. We Americans had gotten so complacent in recent years. Maybe the last couple of years of political debacle will nudge (or kick) people to get out and VOTE!
Vote, vote, vote. It’s always been critical, but never as critical as this year in the USA. Jim and I voted the first day of early voting at 8 a.m. in the morning.
Thank you for this post! I have also voted. I vote from abroad and it took me a couple of hours to figure out a new scanner, sort out non-working Web pages and… but with the help of three wonderful folks from the Sec of States office and my local county, I have voted.
Voting is not just a right, it is a responsibility to be taken very seriously.
Thank you for this forthright expression of your views (and mine) on the right to vote and its importance. I am a white male descended, so far as my genealogical research has discovered, entirely from white European lines, all of whom were in America by the time of the Revolution and many of whom were here well before 1700–some in the 1630’s. And, I am old enough that I first voted in 1964. I find myself deeply distressed, disappointed and angry about the naked appeals to race and ethnicity that are now routinely deployed to try to sway elections. The immediate consequences, as in Pittsburgh are tragic and unspeakable. Voting now is of the utmost importance to take an important step in ensuring that far worse consequences do not arise in the not so distant future.
Roberta, I’ve been following your blog for a long time. I’m very proud of you and want to thank you for the great blog you just wrote on VOTING. I’ve already voted and take this responsibility very seriously! Unfortunately, the USA has a horrible voting record and many citizens do not take this civic act seriously. I don’t care where your genealogical research leads you to because if you go back far enough, we are all related. VOTE…and make your voices heard!
Thank you. Voting is so important.
Thank you for this admonition. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”― Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer). I believe there are more “good men” (and women) than bad. We just need to get off our collective rear ends and do SOMETHING. I always vote, but uncharacteristically, I took the option of EARLY voting today. Normally I prefer to vote on Election Day because I enjoy the sense of occasion it brings. However, I realized that by voting early, I would be one less person in line on Election Day, thereby making the line shorter for people who have little spare time in which to vote. There are people working two or more jobs who just don’t have the luxury of time– one thing some of us can do is make it a little easier for them.
I never thought about that. Good idea.
What a thoughtful post. Thanks for putting in the time to add all of the history.
Already voted early. But if anyone has seen the Bracamontes ad and still does not vote shame on you. Bracamontes came in 3 times during both Democrats and Republicans. He was deported twice by both parties administrations. He was once released from jail by Joe Apraio. Tell me whose blame is it? Everyone’s. No ones or Bracamontes himself?
I am sure if this happened under Trump, he would blame someone else. Ads like this are meant to keep you all from voting. Don’t let it stop you.
Thank you, inspiring blog 🙂 !
Have a wonderful trip 🙂 !
I think it’s awesome-cool that we get to Vote !
Choose choose choose choose choose … 🙂 .
I’m here nesting in my rural home but I already voted too.
Chosen 🙂 !
I always vote ‘absentee’ ever since I missed a critical election about a decade ago when a flash storm prevented me from getting into town to vote that particular Tuesday – yikes !
May all the best persons win next Tuesday 🙂 .
I can’t understand why other countries don’t have compulsory voting as we do here in Australia. Folk must attend and have name ticked off, or submit a postal vote. For those that don’t want to vote for any person of the candidates at all can go along and have their name ticked off get their ballot paper and leave it blank if they wish or write whatever on the paper and put it in the box (informal vote). Many have died to give us the right to a free vote and let you have your say..
How does Australia handle situations like strokes, true incompetence or incapacitation?
If a voter becomes ill and can’t make the voting booth they must fill out statutory declaration to say why they didn’t/couldn’t vote. Not sure how they handle someone permanently incompetent/unable to vote, it will be in the regs somewhere.
Hear! Hear! Hear!
Thank you for this post! It’s sad that so many don’t vote. The measures by those in power to keep people from voting are disgraceful. Election Day should be a holiday so everyone can get to the polls.
Voting is good and I applaud your recommendations to vote, but why do you have to bring in modern politics? The sitting President was duly elected. He won fun and square according to the US Constitution. We used to have a tradition in the U.S. of accepting election results for “the good of the country” rather than have coup de taut’s, court packing, restrictions of rights, etc. as we some times see in third world countries.
Unemployment is at all-time lows for people of all kinds of people in America, including people of different tones of skin color. The U.S. Military service people received raises, our military is stronger than ever. Veterans are receiving better health care.
Mike, I think it is very important to look at voter suppression in this country, which is very real. I live in Georgia and you just cannot imagine how terrible it is. I have been working for Voter Protection for 2 months and am a witness to this. I have talked to hundreds of eligible voters who have had and are having tremendous trouble this year. Over 1 million voters were removed from the roles, a large number of whom have not moved from the address of their voter registration. We have had many voting locations shut down. We have had a number of barriers to voting enacted and as a result many persons who have voted all their lives have had their mail-in ballots rejected. There are a number of persons whose new voter registrations were put on pending status only because their name with SS or driver’s license shows a mismatch of a missing hyphen or spelling that differs by a letter. And there is more. All of this reared its ugly head after the enforcement arm of the Voting Rights Act was effectively removed. So, modern politics is very important, unfortunately. Personally, I disagree with your assessment of our country’s current well-being, especially for POC, but no matter….what really matters is that we are able to exercise our right to vote and that we do what I am doing here in Georgia which is working very hard to counteract as much as is humanly possible the restrictions placed on people’s right to vote. And for the rest of us who are not falling afoul of voting suppression, that we VOTE!
I think your essay is perfectly relevant to our genealogy efforts. I have similar perspective on current events and the resonance with not only my distant ancestors but also my father’s career in the US Air Force.
Thank you for this message. Fantastic!
I voted early it felt so good and relieved some of my anxiety. TV off all day today. Playing with my puppy. Love your posts, Roberta – have fun in Norway!