Your Vote: Use it or lose it

Anyone who watches election returns knows that we Americans take our right to vote for granted. But just how fragile is that right?

Are you a white male landowner who's over 21 years old? When the United States was founded, that's what it took to vote in most states.  By the Civil War, most states had removed the wealth requirement, but you still had to be male, white and, in most states, 21.

Are you a naturalized citizen? You couldn't have voted until the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1868.

Is your skin dark? The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, provided that voting rights could not be abridged based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.

Are you a woman? You couldn't have voted until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed. Thank the brave suffragettes who marched by the thousands, suffering derision and assaults. Some even went to jail, conducted hunger strikes and were force-fed.

Ever live in Washington, D.C.? You couldn't have voted in presidential elections until 1961, when the 23rd Amendment was passed.

In 1964, the 24th Amendment prohibited poll taxes, which had been used to disenfranchise blacks and poor people in the South, taking us back to the wealthy, white and over-21 scenario that our country started with.

Are you between 18 and 21? You got the right to vote in 1971, when the 26th Amendment was passed because Vietnam-era draftees stood up and cried, "If we're old enough to die, we're old enough to vote."

Since the day our country was born, patriots have fought inch by precious inch to secure your right to vote – and to win it back whenever new rules have restricted it. This fight is alive and well in Ohio, where voters' rights activists are challenging new limits on early voting.

September is Voter Registration Month, and Sept. 23 is National Voter Registration Day. League of Women Voters volunteers will be celebrating by registering students in four Cleveland high schools, as well as shoppers and commuters in Tower City. If only we had the resources to reach every single new voter – and all the lapsed voters too!

The League is a nonpartisan political membership organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. We welcome men and those who cannot vote, in addition to women who can – and do. The only requirement for membership is a passion for democracy. We have chapters in Bay Village and Westlake-North Olmsted. Please join us! Visit for more information.

If you have moved since you last voted, please update your registration before Oct. 6 at Registration forms are also available at the Bay Village and Westlake libraries and city halls. The Ohio secretary of state recently mailed Vote by Mail Ballot Applications to voters. If you request a form, you will receive fewer robo-calls because the parties will assume you have voted! But if you do request a form, please use it. If you go to the polls instead, you'll have to cast a provisional ballot.

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 10:04 AM, 09.16.2014