The Voice Of The People

It is not too strange today to think that our very own elected officials fail time and time again to do the work that the public in which they are sworn to do considering all the bills that would make a difference in the lives of so many people never made it outside the halls of Congress. Too often state and Federal legislatures have ignored or withheld passage of bills that the majority of citizens support. It is not only their own constituents either that support passage of a particular piece of legislation. But, all across the country we have seen mass public support for a specific bill only to have our elected officials refuse to acknowledge that support.

In Florida for instance, when the medical marijuana bill was introduced where over 60% of Floridians supported legalization of medical marijuana the state legislature turned their backs on the public and voted it down. That is after they already knew that over 60% of the public approved legalizing medical marijuana. Just think of the tax revenue, like Colorado. Needless to say the state legislature of Florida continues to be ignoring the majority of the public’s concerns.

Just this past November Senator Warren introduced legislation to offset the misdirected way the cost of living increase to Social Security is calculated with her Save the Benefits Act. This bill specifies that each eligible Social Security beneficiary will receive over $550 in a one time payment plan to cover the cost of living increase if that increase was calculated fairly. As of December 30th right before this new year over 75% of Americans support passage of this Save the Benefits Act. Of that 75% over 96% of seniors support and actually need that increase to cover their day to day expenses.

It has been for quite some time now that the audacity of Republicans in congress is more evident today for their overwhelming reluctance and even a down right refusal to allow the Save the Benefits Act to pass. It is just like their refusal to acknowledge Global Warming and Climate Change when there is more than enough scientific evidence to support that our fossil fuel industries are it’s prime cause. It should come to everyone’s attention that when there is an overwhelming support for any piece of legislation whether it is for Social Security, medical marijuana or climate change and the legislature refuses to pass legislation in favor of that support proves once again that our democratic process has been compromised.

These are serious issues that need an urgency to resolve. The longer our elected officials continue to ignore the rule of democracy and resort to a self perpetuated cause where money flows to power that power is then corrupt. What we have today is not a represented government of the people and for the people but a government bought and paid for by the all powerful few. A self serving bureaucracy drowning out the voice of the people.

Then again, perhaps the American public have only themselves to blame for the inefficiency of government. Even though there is mass support for a piece of legislation but that support won’t turn into realization unless it is followed through with action to ensure it’s passage. When indifference and apathy out weigh resourcefulness and resolve as we have seen even when there is an actual consensus that a bill has merit it is no wonder then that legislators continue to ignore the voting public.

Politics and Voting

Recently I began pondering the matter of politics which brought me to the subject of voting, particularly in Federal Elections. I puzzled over whether voting should be considered a “right” or a “privilege,” and came to no definitive conclusion. Can’t it be both?

I believe voting (in politics) is a flawed, imperfect system, though a necessary component of any democracy. It’s not always conducted fairly, aboveboard with honorable intentions. There is often corruption, and dishonest and deceptive means devised to favor one politician or another, or perhaps some odd-ball proposition or proposal.

There have been a number of changes over the years, but there are two major ones with which I’m familiar, and that I consider to be most important. These achievements were a long time coming, but finally happened in the form of amendments: 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave Blacks (men only) the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, gave women the right to vote.

Even though the 15th Amendment looked great on paper, it didn’t work out so well. Southern Democrats, resentful, bitter, and hostile, because of losing the Civil War and their slave labor, deliberately enacted a poll tax and other measures that denied African-Americans their voting rights after all.

Poll Tax was a fee to be paid when registering to vote, and it occurred mostly in former Confederate States. The practice did not officially end until 1964 with the 24th Amendment to the Constitution.

Another voter registration procedure was a ‘literacy test’ which was much more complex than just being able to write your name, and read a simple sentence or two. It was just more insults directed at African-Americans. It was a hateful, vindictive way of showing Blacks that Southerners were still in charge. Since the majority of Blacks were poor and illiterate, they couldn’t pay the poll tax, nor could they pass the literacy test. In reality then, the 15th Amendment did little or nothing to ensure their voting rights.

The ‘Radical Republicans’ from the end of the Civil War through the period of Reconstruction (mid 1870s), worked doggedly to gain civil rights for Blacks. They succeeded in securing some rights for the “freedmen,” but were constantly faced with opposition.

Republicans even passed the “Civil Rights Act of 1875” which was intended to eliminate discrimination against Black citizens. It stated that they should be treated as equals under the law, and could sue in the Federal Courts if such laws were violated.

Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, like the “Right to Vote” Amendment of 1870, did not achieve its goals. Democrats had gained even more political power and control, and made certain that the Civil Rights legislation could not be enforced. They imposed rules and regulations that made filing lawsuits practically impossible. And of course there was an ongoing need for the lawsuits; discrimination was rampant. But Blacks were very poor, worked hard for little money, and lawsuits required both time and money which they could not afford. With the many restrictions placed on every aspect of Black lives, any progress made had now been lost, along with the new voting rights.

In the early 1800s more people (white males) began to vote, but property ownership was a prerequisite. A few states did allow non-property owners to vote, though in most instances poor people (including whites) were ineligible because of the requirements. It was 1856 before all white males in every state were allowed to vote, regardless of property ownership.

From information obtained, I found that about six percent of white males voted at the time of George Washington’s presidency. A much larger number began voting after the War of 1812, and even a greater increase in the late 1820s. Often, those who voted were not only property owners, but wealthy as well. That, of course, would likely indicate that they had the interest of their community at heart, which would present a favorable requisite.

Women began struggling for their voting rights in the early 1800s, but did not achieve that milestone until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which was ratified in 1920. For years women lectured, lobbied, petitioned, and marched in protest. A few were more drastic in their tactics, even resorting to hunger strikes. And they were treated badly by their male opponents, sometimes physically abused, and even jailed.

As a citizen of the United States, I’m grateful for the freedom I have that allows me to vote. But not all U.S. citizens are allowed to do so; that applies to residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam. (I believe that’s meant for federal elections only). Citizens who are felons cannot vote, nor can non-citizen immigrants. I’m sure efforts have been under way for many years, and continue in that effort to try and eliminate those restrictions. I’m sure, too, that there’s a push for online voting, but can there ever be sufficient security measures for such a prodigious task? Sounds impossible to me, but somehow, someway, it probably will happen.