In 1972, I voted in my first presidential election. I was 18 and in Marine Corps boot camp. I had an absentee ballot and was given instruction and “help” on filling it out by my drill instructors.
I won't – and can't – say what they said. But they did give us time to fill out our ballots that year.
I have already voted this year. I made a special trip to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. It was well organized, and I was in and out quickly.
To me, my vote is sacred. I will make every effort I can to vote,
Unfortunately, many people don't hold that view. But they should. People have worked hard for everyone 18 and older to be able to vote.
That 1972 presidential election, between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, was the first election in which 18-year-olds had the opportunity to vote. The 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by three-fourths of the states on July 21, 1971 in the quickest-ever passage of an amendment.
At the time, our country was torn between supporters and protesters of the war in Vietnam. Many men between the ages of 18 and 20 were drafted into the military. The popular idea of the time was that if a man was old enough to fight in that war, he should be old enough to vote.
At one time, our country limited who could vote. The original Constitution gave states the idea of who had that right. Most states had just white men, while some limited it to white men who owned property. In some states, free Black men did not have the right. Over time, most changed it to any white man, although some limited it to tax-paying white men.
A result of the Civil War was three amendments, including the 14th, which gave the right to any man born in the United States, meaning former slaves now had that right. However, most Native Americans, those people waiting on the shores as folks came in boats, did not.
Some Native Americans were given the right to vote in the 1880s by disassociating from their tribes, but all were finally declared citizens and given the right to vote in 1924.
However, some states continued to block African Americans and Native Americans from voting, although the final states gave Native Americans the right by 1948. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited things such as poll taxes and poll tests.
Although some states allowed women to vote, it wasn't until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that women got the right to vote in every election. Even so, Black women were left behind for 45 more years.
Still, people aren't taking that right seriously. In 2016, just 55% of eligible voters took part. Compare that to turnout in the 1960s, when the smallest percentage was 60.7%.
Our history deserves your vote.
And our future depends upon it.
Brian Love is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.