Versions of this essay also appeared in VTDigger and the Addison County Independent.
As a citizen, I take voting very seriously. The act of voting for me is celebratory, ritualistic, an honor. I have distinct memories of voting and waiting for results from elections, both significant and mundane, throughout my life. I remember going to vote with my parents as a child, and as a mother, I have regularly taken my kids to the polls, especially excited to show them my own name on the ballot for school board and later state senate. I was so proud last year when my oldest daughter cast her first vote on Town Meeting Day.
As an elected official, I take voting even more seriously. As a candidate, I am asking citizens to use their right to vote, one that for many people has not come easily, to elect me as their legal representative. It is an honor and a responsibility to earn that vote, and it should never be taken lightly. As an elected official, I am also a role model. I know that my actions reflect my values and show my constituents what is important to me. I must vote if I am asking others to vote for me.
This year, when a pandemic and a president have threatened our right to vote, and when history and circumstance have once again shown us that the right to vote has not come easily, we should be especially vigilant to protect and use our right to vote, and to elect people who are role models for the hard-fought act of voting.
Last month, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis died, reminding us of the ongoing battle for voting rights. Congressman Lewis spent his life fighting for justice and equality, with voting rights as central to this struggle. In 1965, Lewis was beaten by state troopers in Selma, Alabama during the famous Bloody Sunday march for voting rights for Black Americans, which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Last week, in a eulogy to his mentor, President Obama called on Congress to revitalize this legislation and rename it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
In 2000, while I was living in Atlanta, I had the honor of voting for Mr. Lewis to be my Congressman. My husband and I stood in a long line with hundreds of people, most of them older African-American voters, waiting to cast our vote for the Conscience of Congress to represent us in Washington.
Twenty years later, we are living through a historic year for voting rights. Not only does 2020 mark the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, it is also the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through which (white) women earned the right to vote and the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment which granted Black men the right to vote.
Both of these amendments were the result of enormous struggle and sacrifice. The former came after decades of organizing and protest by women across the country, many of whom had died before women had finally won the right to vote. The latter came after a bloody Civil War which pulled our country apart along lines of race, geography, culture, and economics, the reverberations of which still exist today.
Despite these monumental advancements, the struggle for universal voting rights continues in our country. Too often politicians and government officials seek to impede our right to vote, especially for voters of color, new voters, and voters in economically struggling communities. Voters in many areas face limited voting hours, long lines, gerry-mandered districts, unfair voting rules, insufficient voting infrastructure, and in some cases intimidation and violence, all of which make casting a vote difficult or impossible for many Americans.
The COVID Pandemic has added another layer of uncertainty to voting in 2020, putting the risk of deadly viral infection on the list of hindrances many voters face, and making the ability to safely vote by mail crucial for voters around the country.
In Vermont, we are fortunate that voting is largely accessible. Our voting laws and system enable same-day voter registration, a lengthy period for early absentee voting, open primaries, accountable paper ballots, and sufficient polling locations and information. We in the Legislature acted quickly this spring to allow our Secretary of State to implement a universal vote-by-mail process for the November General Election so that everyone can vote without the risk of contracting Coronavirus.
Next Tuesday, August 11 is Vermont’s Primary Election Day. If you are an American citizen aged 18 or older, it is your right and obligation to vote. If you received a ballot by mail and have not yet returned it, fill it out and take it to your polling location. If you have not yet received a ballot, mask-up, wash your hands, and vote in person next Tuesday. For more information about how and where to vote, visit the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office website.
We are less than three months away from what could be the most important election of our lifetimes. On November 3, 2020 we will cast our votes for a President of the United States. It is crucial that we elect someone who can lead us out of a devastating global pandemic, severe economic and climate crises, and a period of increasing violence and oppressive division. We need a president who can bring Americans together and move us forward during this uncertain and frightening time. The act of voting is more imperative now than ever.
As John Lewis wrote in his last essay to the American people, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it.”