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Discover Western Prince William September 2018
4
Voting: A Privilege, a Right, a Duty
November 6, 2018: If this date doesn't ring
a bell, mark it now. As the Tuesday after
the first Monday in November, it marks
the next Election Day, and this year, a
potentially impactful mid-term election.
If you've ever wondered how November
general elections became the norm,
there's a simple explanation. In the 1800s,
farmers made up the majority of citizens.
For them, holding elections in the spring or
early summer interfered with the planting
season, while late summer and early fall
elections overlapped with the harvest.
So November--after the harvest but
before harsher winter weather--was the
best choice. Initially, states were allowed
to hold elections any time they chose
within the 34-day period prior to the
first Wednesday in December, when the
electors were required to meet in their
state capitals to vote (today they
meet on the Monday after
the second Wednesday
in December). But in
1845, Congress passed
a federal law designating
the Tuesday following the
first Monday in November
as Election Day.
To better understand the
importance of this Constitutional
right, let's take a look at the historical
evolution of voting. In 1776, as a newly
independent nation, the United States
only granted white male landowners
who were 21 or older the right to vote.
This was the norm until 1868, when the
14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
granted full citizenship rights--including
voting rights--to all men born or
naturalized in the United States. Just
two years later, the 15th Amendment
eliminated racial barriers to voting, but
voter discrimination, poll taxes, literacy
tests, fraud, and intimidation prevented
many eligible voters from going to the
polls, and Native Americans were still
denied the right to vote.
Although Washington State voters
amended their state constitution to allow
Washingtonian women to vote and run
for office in 1910, it wasn't until 1920
that the 20th Amendment was ratified,
allowing women nationwide the right
to vote, and another four years passed
before the Indian Citizenship Act finally
granted Native Americans citizenship
and voting rights.
In 1964, the federal Civil Rights Act
ensured that all men and women age 21
and older, regardless of race, religion, or
education, had the right to vote, and the
24th Amendment was ratified, eliminating
poll taxes nationwide. At that time, there
were just five states--including Virginia--
that retained a poll tax. The next year,
the federal Voting Rights Act suspended
literacy tests, and registration and voting
rights were federally enforced. It wasn't
until 1971 that the 26th Amendment
lowered the voting age to 18.
Throughout the years, other federal
and state legislative acts have made
improvements to the voting process,
but it continues to be a work in
progress. Considering the
evolution of voting, what
is now a right was at first
a privilege to many. By
establishing the United
States of America, the
Founding Fathers set up
a democracy, which by
definition is a government
of eligible members who are
elected by the people. By that token,
voting is indeed a duty--a cornerstone
of citizenship.
If you're new to the county and haven't yet
registered to vote here, or if you've moved
to a different Prince William address
since the last time you voted, there's
plenty of time to register or update your
information. To vote in the next general
election, completed voter registration
applications must be received by the
Prince William County Voter Registration
Office by October 15. The office is located
at 9250 Lee Avenue in Manassas and is
open for in-person visits Monday­Friday
from 8:30 a.m.­5:00 p.m. or by phone
at
(703) 792-6470. In addition, voter
registration applications are available
at the Manassas Department of Motor
Vehicles (9800 Godwin Drive) and all
Prince William County Public Library
offices. They're also available online at
www.pwcvotes.com.
~ Nancy Griffin-Bonnaire
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