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20 May 2015

“Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death!”

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May 20, 2015 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Sarah E. Johnson

“Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!

As we approach the May 19 primary, the words Patrick Henry spoke at the Virginia Convention in 1775 and his reason for saying them become more and more important. Among the liberties we enjoy in this country is the freedom to vote and express your feelings.

In 1776, the American colonies formally declared their independence from England because they felt that they couldn’t live without having a say in their own future. The First Continental Congress adopted the Constitution that year as a blueprint for their nascent government.

In 1787, as the Revolutionary War continued, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison started writing the Bill of Rights to further cement certain liberties and rights among the citizens governed by this new Constitution. Liberty is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views,” they believed.

The Bill of Rights established better rules and broke the government up into three branches: the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. These first 10 Amendments cover some very important things including religion, press, speech, and assembly (the First Amendment), the right to bear arms, (Second Amendment), illegal search and seizure (the Fourth Amendment) and safety from self-incrimination. (Fifth Amendment)

But the most relevant Amendments to the Constitution to the May 19 primary are the ones that are connected to voting.

The Fifteenth Amendment eliminated the racial barriers to voting in 1870, but it only meant that African-American males could vote. It was through the Women’s Suffrage Act, and later the Nineteenth Amendment, that women got the right to vote in 1920 through the Women’s Suffrage Act.

In 1802, portions of Virginia and Maryland residents were denied the right to vote in presidential elections, but in 1960 the 23rd Amendment changed that. Poll taxes were abolished in 1964 by the 24th Amendment.

Voting is part of one of our governmental duties as citizens. It is also your opportunity to be heard and to have a say in important issues that affect your community.

The idea behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was to increase voter registration. It was supposed to outlaw the discriminatory voting practices that had been adopted in most of the South after the Civil War.

But despite the existence of the Voting Rights Act, voter participation is still not where it needs to be. For example, in 2012, 45 percent of 18-29 olds voted. In the last 10 years, voter turnout was at its highest point for this age group in 2008 with 51 percent.

In 2008, 59 percent of African Americans as opposed to 52 percent of Whites. People with college education voted more than those without. In 2008, 61 percent of those with a college education voted. Only 36 percent of all Americans who don’t have a college degree exercised their franchise.

Why do some refuse to participate in elections when the officials and issues voted on have such strong influence on nearly every aspect of their lives?

The reasons might surprise you. In 2012, 3 percent didn’t make it to the polls due to transportation issues, 17 percent said they were too busy, 15 percent said they couldn’t get out because of an illness or disability, and 13 percent were just plain not interested.

Many Americans don’t vote because they think their vote doesn’t count. Your vote does count, and you should get out and exercise that right.

If you do have a transportation problem, ask someone for a ride. Here in Philadelphia, candidates have people whose sole job is to get you to the polls. Reach out to someone. If it’s really too difficult for you to get to the polls, get an absentee ballot. My brother got one when he was in college in New York State. Not being able to get to the polls isn’t a very good excuse not to vote.

Seven percent forgot that it was Election Day. In these days of smart phones and scheduling apps, put an Election Day reminder on your calendar.

But to the 13 percent that didn’t like the candidates or campaign issues, I have a reminder….You’re allowing the people who do vote to make decisions about your life.

When we vote, we choose the representatives who will make the laws and policies that govern how we live together. Being able to make these decisions about our country is one of the greatest things about being an American.

If he were here, Patrick Henry would say “Liberty has been given because of the right to vote.”

On Tuesday, be sure to exercise it.

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