Archive for Wednesday, October 31, 2012

History of the vote

October 31, 2012

In just a few days we will be going to the polls to select a new president and maybe more importantly members of the state legislature. The election will, of course, have a lot to do with all our lives and it is important that we vote.

I don’t know why, but Americans have a tendency not to go to the polls. Certainly there will be a higher turnout since we are electing a president, however all elections are important. Sadly, some people seem to think that only the presidential election is important but that simply isn’t true. In many ways the outcome of state and local elections have a greater effect on our lives. Unfortunately, city elections are lucky to have a turnout of 25 percent while presidential elections draw many times that number.

One person told me that he believed the reason some people don’t vote is that they are simply turned off by the process. You can’t turn on TV or go to the mail box and not be bombarded by political rhetoric. That wouldn’t be so bad if candidates said what they are going to do to better our lives. Sadly, most of the ads are so completely negative. This has certainly gotten worse since the creation of political support groups that have a lot of money but no responsibility to tell us where that money comes from.

Actually, I discovered that voting is relatively new to history.

While the ancient Romans and Greeks had elections, it wasn’t until the 18th century when voting became somewhat common. Most countries were monarchies and ruled by small elite family groups. Even after parliamentary elections started, the common person still had relatively little voice in government.

While there were local elections in the colonies, the first national election was in 1789 when George Washington was elected president and John Adams Vice-President.

Even in the fledgling United States voting rights were limited to wealthy, white men. Many states required persons to be landowners to vote. It seems that since the property tax was the basis of government finance, folks thought that only those paying taxes should vote. That idea didn’t last long and the vote was available to most while males.

It would be nearly 175 years before all Americans were guaranteed the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement took care of part of the problem in the early years of the 20th century. In some old editions of the Chieftain I noted that there were some women who bitterly opposed voting. One woman said that no real lady with proper upbringing would want to vote or hold office. If she were around today, she would be shocked at the number of women who hold elected positions.

One of our national disgraces is that it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that barriers were removed that prevented African-Americans from casting ballots. There were some states that required African-Americans to take tests which, from what I’ve read, no one could pass. Also the poll tax was abolished and the voter age lowered to 18.

I was surprised to find that early elections were fairly disorganized. The state of Victoria, Australia held the first uniform secret ballot in an election in 1856. The biggest change in voting came with the invention of automated voting machine. Herman Hallenith developed the first punch card voting in 1889. The first voting machine was invented by Jacob H. Myer in the 1890s. By the 1930s, voting machines were used in most major cities. They came to Wyandotte County in the early 1960s and later to Leavenworth County.

Now, almost all voting machines are electronic and it certainly makes tallying much easier. You have to be an old-timer like me to remember when we voted on paper ballots. The counting was done by hand and sometimes it was well into the wee hours of the morning before the votes were tabulated. Paper ballots also led to miscounts and other problems.

Of course, the biggest modern election snafu was the 2000 presidential election and the hanging chad fiasco in Florida.

Hopefully, all goes well on Tuesday and we will have a big turnout for the election. While the vote may end the explosion of political ads for the time being it is my bet no matter who wins, within the first six months of 2013, candidates will begin to announce their intention to run for office in 2014 or 2016.

The process never ends and will continue with city elections in the spring. In some ways, politics have become our national pastime.

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