The long struggle for right to vote

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Do not betray the sacrifices of centuries in the push to extend democracy's franchise.

THE FOUNDERS didn't miss much, but when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787 it did not contain specific guidance on who could or could not vote.

So it was left up to the states, and in most the only people allowed to vote were white men who owned property. Not until the Reconstruction period following the Civil War did the government take up the issue of denying the vote - and, indeed, denying citizenship - based on race, color or former slave status.

Even then, through Jim Crow laws states found ways around that supposed constitutional right to vote. From poll taxes to literacy tests to outright physical intimidation, persons of color were still denied the franchise in many places for decades.

Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, with adoption of the 19th Amendment. And while young Americans from age 18-21 were being drafted and sent off to war, they were not allowed to vote until adoption of the 26th Amendment in 1971.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and in 1964 the Supreme Court ruled for "one man, one vote" in an effort to stop states from using redistricting to dilute the voting power of certain groups.

ANYONE WHO THINKS all those battles solved America's voting issues hasn't been paying attention. Political boundary manipulation - better known as gerrymandering - continues to be a big point of dispute. Laws governing ballot procedures passed in recent years are considered voter suppression by some. Lawsuits in this election - Georgia and North Dakota, for example - challenge practices some believe are intended to prevent certain people from voting.

In other words, we hope all Americans pause and think about the sacrifices and struggles over centuries that led to their ability to openly go to the polls and cast a ballot influencing the direction of the country. Do not shrug it off and flop down on the couch, betraying all those who worked so hard - and, for some, gave their lives - so you could have that right to vote.

For non-property owning white men, for people of color, for women, and young Americans wearing their country's uniform, being allowed to vote was not a right until it was demanded and fought for. Honor their struggles.

A FINAL WORD: In this commentary we focused on the internal struggle for equal voting rights in America. But as you decide whether to cast a ballot or not, also remember the hundreds of thousands of American fighting troops who died or suffered grievous physical and psychological injuries to protect your liberty to vote - or, perhaps, to be unpatriotic and just flop on that couch. When you vote, you stand up for America and you recognize all who protected and preserved your rights. Don't let them down. Don't do them dishonor. Vote on Tuesday.

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