homepage logo

Democracy and the Right to Vote, A “Through The Lens” Special

By Staff | Nov 2, 2016

Next Tuesday, those of us that vote, will cast our popular vote for a new president – a process we repeat every four years in America. This election we will be writing a new chapter in our country’s history that began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In our 240 year history, this will be the first time a major political party has chosen a woman as their presidential candidate.

If either one of the candidates receives two 270 electoral votes, they will be the 45th president and another new chapter will begin. Eight years ago, our history recorded the first African American candidate to be nominated, and eventually was elected, to the Presidency. No matter how the election turns out next Tuesday, history is being made, and each of us has a hand in writing it – that is if you vote.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the founding fathers considered the Virginia Plan as a way to elect a president. Simply put, Congress would choose the person to lead the country. Back then Congress could agree on things they were elected to do, unlike today. Eventually that plan evolved into the Electoral College plan as the way we would choose our president. In school, I was taught this plan helped solve the question of equalizing the power between larger states and smaller ones. Reading history, I have come to understand the Electoral College may have also avoided another question, who has the right to vote for president? Women and African Americans could not yet vote. Their constitutional rights would come later. With the president chosen by electoral votes and not directly by the popular votes, the issue of women’s suffrage and the African American vote posed the least problems for politicians, especially the southern states.

In some ways, this story is only possible because of the passage of five amendments to the Constitution. The 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to all male citizens in 1869. Fifty years later, in 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. There have been three additional amendments enacted to answer other problems. The 23rd gave citizens of Washington DC the right to vote. The 24th banned poll taxes, along with the requirement to own property in order to vote. And finally, the passage of the 26th, during the Vietnam War, reducing the voting age to 18. These changes were meant to make voting fair for everyone in our country.

We think of the right to vote for President as a right every American has. But the first election for president was a privilege of male landowners. Each state had electors equal to their representatives in Congress. Each of these electors cast their votes for the President. The process is thought not to be perfect by some. The very first electors were chosen without a popular vote by most states. It was not until 1818 when most of the majority of the electors were chosen, using the popular vote from the states. Those men who were elected to represent their states back then used a great deal of common sense when building that early government. For the most part, they remembered they were there to represent the interest of the people and not themselves or party affiliation. I am not sure when that basic common sense was no longer required when running for office.

In my opinion, the Electoral College has served our country for both good and not so good. I guess it depends on which side of the political fence the vote count comes down on.

Four times in our country’s history the electoral votes, and not the popular vote, has played a part in the election of a president. The latest was in 2000, when Al Gore received the popular votes, beating George W. Bush by a quarter million votes. But when the Electoral College vote was counted, Bush received five more votes than Gore, and became the 43rd President. In 1825, Andrew Jackson received the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, but lost to John Quincy Adams when the House of Representatives chose Adams for President. He was chosen by the language in the 12th amendment, which gave the House of Representatives the power to choose a president when none of those running receives the required 270 votes.

In our country’s first elections, there was no state of West Virginia – we were still part of Virginia. The state at that time had 24 electoral votes. Only two states had more at the time – New York with 26 and Pennsylvania with 28. Today West Virginia has 5 electoral votes.

Do you know who ran against George Washington for the first elected Presidential job? No one – he ran unopposed twice. The first time he took the office hesitantly, not believing he should be the country’s first president. Also do you know, that in those early elections, the person with the most votes became president? The person with the second most votes became vice president. Couldn’t you just imagine if that was still like that today? It would make for some hot times in the oval office.

Presidential history is filled with interesting and highly contested elections. We hear on the news today of how strange this election has become. And I guess that is true for a lot of different reasons – the candidates themselves, the news media, and sometimes interesting side stories. Perhaps some of the most interesting commercials come from political organizations that spin the truth for, or against, a candidate to serve their own political agenda. It is sometimes hard to know what the truth is when it has been spun so many times. Money and the lobbyists in Washington have become a major contributing factor in today’s elections. For us, the voter, we have only one vote. And in the case of the president’s election, it only really counts towards and electoral vote.

In 1824, the House of Representatives chose the president after neither Jackson nor Adams received 270 electoral votes. I’ll bet someone claimed conspiracy and fraud tainted the outcome. Can you imagine in today’s world if neither candidate won the needed electoral votes, and the House of Representatives had to choose? It would be so interesting they would make a reality TV show out of the results. And do you know who benefits the most out of a wild election season such as this one? The late night talk show host.

Next Tuesday, I would ask you to exercise your right as a citizen of this great country, to vote freely and make your own choice. I know I am going to vote for my candidate, and that person is? Well, I’ll know as I look Through the Lens.