On March 23, 1971, Congress proposed the twenty-sixth amendment. A law that would drop the legal voting age to 18. By July 1, 1971, three quarters of the states made it official. The Vietnam War was the turning point. If young men could be drafted and die for their country, then they should have the right to participate in the decisions and directions it follows. It was added to a 1970 bill that extended the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1976, I turned 18 and actually had the right to say what direction I thought the country should take! My voice mattered.
Traveling that summer to Europe and countries behind the “ iron curtain” – East Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, I experienced first- hand what places without democratic freedoms felt like. To this day, I still remember the relief that flooded through me as I passed back across Checkpoint Charley into West Berlin. Clutching my passport, I traversed the neutral zone as armed guards stood ready to shoot anyone daring to run the gauntlet without permission. I can still see the crosses of those willing to sacrifice everything to live free.
What used to be taken for granted was now a mission to learn all I could before the big day. I even took over the Senatorial race on the University of Arizona campus for Dennis Deconcini. A brand new voting block had become available and few knew how to educate, include or encourage their response. Setting up tables on the mall where students could easily find pamphlets discussing the two candidates’ differing opinions and where and when to vote, became a hit. From there, rallies and debates sealed the deal. We had the largest voter turnout in the 18-21 age group in the state.
It was invigorating, exhausting and thrilling. Voting held the promise of a better future. Everyone shared the same power. All it took was the correct age and US citizenship. A golden ticket too few in the world would ever understand, let alone enjoy. That is the basic tenet in this country- everyone gets a say in how our county is run. Everyone gets a say at the ballot box. Far too often, this incredible right is ignored by those who believe their vote can’t possibly make a difference. But we have all seen how wrong that concept is in close elections. Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush by only 537 votes, out of almost six million cast.
One person one vote adds up to incredible power. Yet that very democratic tenet is under attack. Why would any state want, let alone pass, legislation that would make voting harder to accomplish? Why would any state not want to encourage and promulgate all options available to make it easy for every citizen to vote?
That’s the crucial question. Especially when dozens of states are proposing election laws making it harder to cast a ballot. They claim it’s due to fears of voter fraud. But as President Trump’s own people, including his own appointee to oversee election integrity- Christopher Krebs- and attorney general Barr admitted, the 2020 election was the safest election to date. In fact, Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick’s million dollar prize to prove voter fraud, any voter fraud, has still gone unclaimed. Dozens of court cases asserting voter fraud were thrown out by Trump appointees as baseless. In the midst of horrendous odds- a pandemic keeping people indoors, external sources trying to manipulate and subvert our elections, such as one polling center or drop box for millions of voters, or slowing the mail-democracy triumphed.
But even if one wanted to argue for tighter voter regulations, how does making it a federal crime to
offer water or food to those standing in line
cutting down the available sites and hours to vote
removing drop off ballot boxes
and the most heinous act our own state is pursuing- allow legislators to decide the election outcome when they deem the voters made the wrong choice,
ensure safe, legitimate and accurate election results?
We each owe future generations and those who died, or put their lives on the line, to make democracy a reality, a debt that can only be repaid when we make sure every vote counts.