Letter to the editor: Right to vote is precious — all should exercise it

As we approach Town Meeting Day, I reflect on our country’s history, the evolution of citizenship, and our right to vote. We are faced with many issues today, locally and as a nation, to which my eyes have been opened. I know I am not alone in this currently tumultuous environment.
When our country was new, the only people allowed to vote were white, wealthy, male landowners. This exclusive segment included approximately 6 percent of the adult, male population. I cannot imagine what our country would look like today if the right to vote for our government were limited to this tiny demographic. Democracy calls for inclusivity. The founders of our country were wise in knowing they did not yet have a perfect path but with the right foundation, and solid leadership, our country could grow and change as time reveals necessary.
To date, there have been 27 amendments to our constitution. Six of these relate to our right to vote in some manner. It sometimes took outrage and peaceful demonstration to make our voter pool more appropriately inclusive. Amendment XV resulted from the Civil War ending slavery. It took nearly a century to add the amendment ending the practice of charging a poll tax, as some states did to keep the poor from voting. Women gained the right to vote in 1920. In 1971, voting was extended to citizens at age 18. These individuals could already be drafted to war yet had lacked acceptance into the voting booth.
Though it’s not news, it is stunning that our country today ranks 25th among 35 developed nations for voter participation. According to Pew Research, the election in 2016 saw less than 56 percent of voting-age Americans registered to vote. Of those who were registered, about 89 percent participated. This is an average across all states and there are areas where these numbers vary in either direction. On the world stage, Belgium sits at the top of the chart for participation. Nearly 90 percent of the voting-age citizens registered and cast ballots. Voting is compulsory in that country and fines can be levied for not fulfilling this responsibility of citizenship.
Back home, one deterrent to voter turnout is the incorrect belief that our single vote means little in the big picture. Remember the presidential election of 2000? George W. Bush and Al Gore were at a near-tie in the electoral college. It all came down to Florida. Following a recount, Bush took the office because of 537 votes. A national election boiled down to the fact that 537 people went to the polls. Issues with the electoral college selecting a different candidate than the popular vote aside, this depicts the importance of every vote.
There are a number of factors playing into voter participation rates: busy lives spent racing the clock, complicated issues that require focus to make informed decisions, a lack of trust, and distractions that make it easy to look elsewhere. Town Meeting is about addressing our local issues. There are many that deserve our attention: voting for school budgets is universal, town leadership positions need filling, municipal infrastructure projects need addressing, taxes are unwieldy, and several school districts are grappling with renovation needs.
Vermont has often been a leader when the call for societal change has been sent. I respectfully ask that, as March 6 approaches, you keep in mind the struggles our ancestors endured to ensure we have the right to stand up and be counted in the decision making process. Using your voice in the voting booth is how democracy is intended to work. Absentee ballots are available from your town clerk if you cannot travel to your polling location on Town Meeting Day.
Denise Dalton

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