Early voting must stay
I voted early. That way, whatever happens, it’s done. I cannot imagine not voting. It’s not something we should take for granted, especially as the world is experiencing a drift from democratic principles. Whoever you vote for, please vote. Some people say they didn’t vote in an election because there were no good candidates to choose from or the outcome didn’t matter. Outcomes matter. There are almost always differences between candidates, and very often, one choice is someone who will pay more attention to the people who too often are ignored, e.g. minorities, the vulnerable, the poor and the less educated. Some people say that gerrymandering has so skewed voting districts that the deck is stacked unfairly. They’re right. Gerrymandering has rendered some districts a shadow of what they were. The way to change that, albeit over years, is to vote.
Who am I to write about voting?
A couple months ago, other public health deans and I participated on a call, and the issue of voting arose. Many deans felt reluctant to weigh in. I am not. I’m not telling anyone who they should vote for in an election. I’m advocating that they exercise their rights as American citizens to participate in their democracy. For my part, I use a public health lens, an equity lens, when I view candidates. Will they make the public healthier? Will they help to redress racial, gender and other inequities? Will they help to make our society more just and more fair? These are inherently public health issues. For example, we know that people who have lower levels of education suffer from poorer health compared to those who are more educated. Not only is it my right as an individual, and not on behalf of the Gillings School, to speak about voting, I also believe it is my responsibility.
A right and responsibility
We should not take the right to vote for granted. We have the responsibility to weigh in on how we want our government and representatives to be. Voting is not the only way we do that, but if we default, we may not like the results. My passion for voting may come in part from being the granddaughter of immigrants who cherished the right to vote, a right they did not have in the country they left. I’ve been reading a lot of history, including a book about the Weimar Republic in Germany as Hitler took power. It’s frightening how little people noticed that their rights were being eliminated, because it happened gradually, one action after another, until the impact was staggering and dramatic.
In the US, women’s right to vote was not guaranteed at the federal level until 1920, when the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, as difficult as that may be to believe. While the 15th amendment in 1870 declared the right of all (male) citizens, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, to vote, it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legal barriers at the state and local levels aimed at Black voters were outlawed. Efforts to suppress voting, especially minority voting, continue and should not be ignored. Millions of people in the US have had their voting rights curtailed or removed, because they have been convicted of a crime or cannot produce valid ID in states that require it. Studies of voter fraud show repeatedly that fraud is not a problem in the US today. It’s a red herring to institute constitutional amendments and laws to require photo ID. In some states, other means have been used to suppress voting. We should not tolerate it. North Carolina, with its continuing record of controversial legislation, is not an exemplar of the right way to encourage voting.
The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.