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Margaret's Musings: Voting is a measure of our society

In less than a week, Americans will have the opportunity to exercise their privilege and right to vote. We are one of the longest surviving democracies in the world and, more than ever, the world is watching.

Voting was sacred when I was growing up. My parents always voted, traveling to the polls together, regardless of weather. Now at the ages of 83 and 87, they have never missed the opportunity to exercise this privilege. While voting was of paramount importance to these two children of immigrants, they did not discuss how they voted in front of me. It was a private matter.

Today, politics seem to be anything but private -- in fact, from the campaign ads to personal banter it is sometimes easier to be silent. However, history shows that we owe a debt to those who chose not to be silent. The history of the right to vote in America has evolved since the original writing of the constitution, at which time only white, wealthy males could cast a ballot.

The first change came in 1870, just after the Civil War when the 15th Amendment was written, which stated the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. This still excluded females, who won the right to vote in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified, stating that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

In 1965, the voting rights act was signed into law to enforce the 15th Amendment because many southern states imposed conditions on their citizens, preventing them from exercising their right to vote. The final change came in 1971 with the addition of the 26th Amendment, giving citizens at the age of 18 the right to vote.

A closer look at the history of all of these struggles paints a pretty ugly picture, not only to United States citizens but to the outside world as well. However, it is because of the system of government and the ideals set forth that we can next week go to the polls, freely casting our votes for national, state and local officials as well as local issues, such as the Hudson library referendum.

It is important to remember that even in this era of cynicism one vote can make a difference.

According to the League of Women Voters, examples where small margins of votes made a difference happened:

  • In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida's electoral votes to give him the victory in the presidential election by 537 votes out of 5,861,785 votes cast.
  • In 1996, Ron Wyden won election to the U.S. Senate from Oregon by 1 percent of the vote.
  • Patty Cafferata defeated Bob Kerns in the 1980 primary election for a Nevada Assembly seat by one vote. Her margin of victory may have been larger if at least three of her family members hadn't forgotten to vote.

    In 2004, during the last presidential election, there were 215,694,000 eligible voters; of those 125,736,000 voted, equivalent to 58.3 percent.

    I would like to challenge each of you to vote on Tuesday or before if necessary not only because we are privileged in America to have this right but because it is time to send a message to the world that we understand how fortunate we are even during this time of economic turmoil to have the opportunity to "change" the course of events.

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