Exercise your franchise!

By William S. Coleman III

“How many marbles are in that jar over there, boy? What do you mean you don’t know? Well, boy, you cannot vote in this here election.”

“Good morning, Miss. Who was the first President of the United States? George Washington is correct. Please proceed and cast your ballot in this here election.”

At one time in America, in order to vote in an election, you had to be a white male who owned land. In 1920, women were given the right to vote throughout the country. But it wasn’t until 1964, when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, that voting became a civil right that was guaranteed to every U.S. citizen.

The Voting Rights Act gave every American citizen over the age of 21 the right to vote in local, state and federal elections. When you research your history on voting in America, you will see there were many obstacles that unpatriotic, racist, bigoted groups would put before American voters to discourage them from going to the polls and casting their vote.

When Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have A Dream Speech,” in August of 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he cried out that many American Negroes in the South cannot vote. As he paused, he reflected and then said, many American Negroes in the North have nothing for which to vote.

Today we live in well diversified communities where there is a lack of interest in elections for many of our citizens. Election Day is a mere inconvenience. What will it take for Americans to go to the polls and cast their votes? Voting today has become easy for all. You can go to the polls to vote, you can request, through an absentee ballot application, that a ballot be mailed directly to your home. Or you can go to your local city or town election office and cast your ballot one month before the election, with no questions asked.

In order to vote in America today, you simply need to be an American citizen, over the age of 18 and not incarcerated at the time of the election. People who have felony convictions on their criminal record histories can vote in all elections, as long as they are not incarcerated at the time of the election.

Voting is a right of American citizenship; it is a privilege to live in a free country. Each American must make real the promise of America. Casting your vote is one way to ensure that America stays strong.

You may want to work as an election worker in your city or town. Contact your local election office to sign up to be a poll worker or an election warden.

Try to be as informed as you can about the election you’re going to vote in. Prior to the election, you could attend candidates debates or listen to all the radio stations and read the local newspapers (especially InCity Times!). And if worse comes to worst, talk to estranged family members you would only see at weddings, funerals, baptisms or high holiday services.

When you think that people were once asked a series of stupid questions called literacy tests or that a city or town would charge you to vote through enactment of a poll tax and to think that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold an election that might only see fewer than 50% of all eligible voters go to the polls … it can be disheartening.

People have died, churches have been burned, lives have been threatened to discourage people from going to the polls.

So don’t just stand there and complain about the taxes we pay, the schools we have and the lack of jobs and businesses that are in our communities! Most Americans need to get up, get actively involved in our government and our communities. Volunteer, give the clothes you don’t wear to organizations that are helping people dress for success and go on a job interview. Get involved in local parent-teachers organizations, volunteer to serve on civic boards and commissions. Be a part of a neighborhood clean-up. Be a good parent to your young children. Be that helpful forever child to your parents, grandparents, great grandparents and uncles. Reach out to those in need.

But whatever you do, remember America is a great country because you make it great. And remember that as Americans our greatest challenge is to open our hearts and our minds and to stop the ugly growth of bigotry and hypocrisy that continues to stifle any progressive enhancement of our society.

Don’t just stand there and complain about what you see! Run for public office and share your ideas.
God Bless America! Vote tomorrow, November 2!

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