The most powerful weapon on Earth is the right to vote. The vote allows every citizen to be part of the political process. The right to vote is so powerful that, from our founding until this very day, there were and are, efforts to take that weapon away because voting can change the direction of cities, counties, states and countries. Voting though, is a weapon most of us rarely use, to our own detriment.
Slaves used to gain political power
When this country was founded in 1776, Constitution ratified in 1787, denied the vote from slaves, women and non-property owners. However, the slave population was used to apportion Congressional seats. The three-fifths compromise of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the brainchild of delegate James Wilson, who would go on to be a Supreme Court justice and delegate Charles Pickney, a South Carolina slaveholder. The compromise gave Southern states a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes because for every five slaves, three would be counted toward a state’s population. Why was the compromise important? Slaveholding states in the South were worried the more populous northern states would dominate if just the non-slave population was counted.
A powerful force denied
According to the 1860 Census, there were 462,108 slaves in Georgia, almost 44 percent of the population. There were 6,790 slaves in Bibb County compared to only 9,460 whites. In Houston County slaves made up 69 percent of the population — 10,755 slaves to only 4,828 whites. In South Carolina, slaves outnumbered whites by more than 111,000 and in Mississippi slaves were 55 percent of the population, Alabama, 45 percent, Arkansas, 25 percent, Florida, 44 percent, Louisiana, 48 percent and Kentucky had 225,483 slaves. Nationwide there were almost four million slaves.
A long time coming
The first vessel carrying a cargo of slaves landed in Virginia in 1619. It would take 246 years and a Civil War for the “peculiar institution” of slavery to end. The 13th Amendment (proposed in 1864 and ratified in 1865) abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The 14th Amendment (proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868) addressed
citizenship rights and equal protection of the law for all persons. The 15th Amendment (proposed in 1869 and ratified in 1870) prohibited discrimination in voting rights of citizens on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But there was still another group of people unable to exercise their voting rights: Women didn’t get the right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago in 1920.
Voting door quickly shut
The time of Reconstruction following the Civil War, didn’t last long, from 1867 to 1877 when federal troops in the South guaranteed compliance with the U.S. Constitution, but in 1877, a deal was struck between anti-slavery Republicans and Pro-slavery Democrats. Rutherford B. Hayes, following President Ulysses S. Grant, both Republicans, was 20 votes shy of winning the presidency. Democrats, who controlled the House, made a deal to allow Hayes to become president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Between 1890 and 1910, ten of 11 former Confederate states passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised most blacks, and tens of thousands of poor whites, through a combination of poll taxes, literacy and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements. Those laws would stand until the Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were passed.
Why your vote counts
In 2018 midterm elections, 10 races for the House of Representatives were decided by less than a 1 percent margin, one of those in Georgia for the 7th Congressional District, was decided by 0.15 percent. What’s that in real numbers? Ron Woodall beat Carolyn Bourdeaux by 419 votes out of 280,441 votes cast.
Also, in 2018 midterms, 10 races for the House of Representatives were decided by less than a 2 percent margin, one in Georgia for the 6th Congressional District, was decided by 1.03 percent. Lucy McBath beat Karen Handel by 3,264 votes out of 317,014 votes cast. The closest race in the country pitted Florida Gov. Rick Scott against Sen. Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate. The margin of victory for Scott was 0.12 percent or 10,033 votes out of 8,190,005 votes.
But there was another race right here in Georgia that was oh so close. Stacey Abrams missed out on becoming the first African-American governor by 54,723 votes, or 1.38 percent out of 3,939,328 votes cast. Here’s the kicker: There were 2,478,676 registered Georgia voters who didn’t vote at all. It has been 401 years since the first slave ship landed in 1619. Today, the only thing keeping us from the ballot box is who we look at in the mirror. Certainly, there continues to be voter suppression, but shame on us if we allow it to stop us from exercising our rightful power.
Dates to Remember:
- April 20: Last day to register and be eligible to vote in the General Primary, Nonpartisan, and Special Election and Runoff Election.
- May 19: Nonpartisan Elections (Macon-Bibb) General Primary and Special Elections.
- July 21: General Primary Runoff, Nonpartisan General Runoff, and Special Runoff Election for Local and State Offices and General Primary Runoff Election for Federal Offices.
- Oct. 5 Last day to register for General Election.
- Nov. 3: General Election and Special Election (presidential).
- Jan. 5, 2021: General Election Runoff for Federal Offices.
Written by Charles E. Richardson