The standard civics class lesson is that voting is a primary responsibility of citizenship. We are often reminded at patriotic events that our men and women in uniform protect our rights and freedoms including participating in our government by voting.
Yet, with all the importance assigned to voting, voter participation rates in this country are among the lowest of democratic governments. More people stay home than go to the polls. For whatever their reasons for not voting, these people by their inaction affect the outcome of elections.
Unfortunately, some political operatives have recognized that keeping voter turnout low is a way to influence the election outcomes. Laws are on the books in Virginia and are being debated in other states to require an official identification document in order to vote.
Elimination of voter fraud is given as the justification for such laws, although there have been few documented instances of voter fraud. The real effect is to add to the complexities of the voting process to discourage persons from voting. With an expected close presidential election coming up in 2012, it is likely that there will be more legislation introduced in the states affecting voter participation.
Virginia has historically had among the lowest voter participation rates of any state. Virginia once had a host of laws to limit voting and voter registration. A literacy test requiring certain information to be written on a blank sheet of paper kept many well-educated people from being able to register to vote.
Supporters of the Byrd Machine could pass the test whether or not they could read or write; African-Americans could seldom pass the test.
The poll tax of $1.50 kept many people from voting because they simply did not have the money. Beyond the amount of money the requirement that the poll tax had to be paid for three years in a row at least six months before the election kept even more people from voting. Desirable voters were reminded to pay their poll tax in May in order to be able to vote in November.
Incidentally, the poll tax was the only tax on the books that was not enforced. If you did not pay it, nobody came to collect it. The tax was not about raising revenue but was about limiting the right of people to vote. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated most of the voter suppression laws that existed in Virginia and in the South and other states.
There are few legal barriers to voting. We need to be vigilant to ensure that laws are not enacted that would have the effect of discouraging people to vote. If you are going to be away on Election Day, unable to go to the polls, or are away from home for more than eleven hours, apply for an absentee ballot or vote early in person. For details, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/eb or call 703.324.4706. Do not let anyone or anything suppress your vote.