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Cherish the Ballot

I have an embarrassing confession: I didn’t vote this past Tuesday. There wasn’t anything major on my local ballot, but I realized I’m still registered at an old address, and it didn’t happen. No major harm done, but I’m a little mortified. To perhaps assuage this, and to motivate me to send in my new address form, a short and incomplete history of my personal identity politics and suffrage:

The first independent political entity to give women the right to vote was, believe it or not, New Zealand, clocking in first in 1893 and thus beating the United States by twenty-seven years. That’s right, although it strikes me as unbelievable: the United States passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. (By the way, those voting rights are not necessarily commensurate with other equal rights under the law. ERA what now?) There are still countries in the world where women are not allowed to vote, such as Brunei and Saudi Arabia.

One of the most phenomenal aspects of the Constitution of the Unites States was the guaranteed right to vote for religious minorities,
although, of course, the same would not apply for non-white racial minorities, like Jews. (It took the Reform Act of 1867 to extend voting privileges to a similar population in England.)

On any sort of reasonable election guide, you won’t find Burma/Myanmar listed—the junta doesn’t hold any elections. You will find Thailand, whose military coup was much more recent and bloodless. You’ll also find nations like Zimbabwe and Russia, where elections are, if not locally, at least casually known internationally as a massive joke and general waste of paper. A little digging will let you know that election-related stampedes have killed 51 in Yemen in recent years, and 22 women in India. Women have been killed in Afghanistan for registering themselves and others to vote. It is still
a right for which people regularly die.

And, of course, recent events teach us not to take our rights here too much for granted.

In honor of Veterans’ Day, in honor of those who have fought and died for the freedoms we all—myself most definitely included—so often fail to stop and cherish, register to vote, and make sure your friends and family register, too. There’s nothing more powerful in the world.

–Mel Weiss