This is an opinion piece.

Since two-thirds of Alabama’s eligible voters don’t give two cents about the election, one might think it best of me to steer away from another political opinion.

But due to the unreasonably low number of voters, I would be remiss to stay silent. 

That’s right. Only about 33% of Alabama voted Tuesday (31% in Marshall County), and to be honest, that’s a shame.

The power to change, or to keep things the way they are, lies in the hands of voters. So to paraphrase a few a few of my friends’ comments, don’t bother complaining about the election outcome if you didn’t bother voting.

My No. 1 question for the 67% who stayed at home is, why? Do you just not care? I understand sickness and inclement weather causing a handful of people to not vote, but that isn’t a viable excuse for more than 2 million people not showing up to the polls in Alabama.

And I’m not just talking about this election. This terrible lack of voting interest has been a noticeable trend for years, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. The state has only reached 50% turnout three times in the last 10 years:

• 2010 Primary Election – 32%

• 2010 General Election – 58%

• 2012 (Presidential) Primary Election – 24%

• 2012 (Presidential) General Election – 73%

• 2014 Primary Election – 22%

• 2014 General Election – 40%

• 2016 (Presidential) Primary Election – 41%

• 2016 (Presidential) General Election – 66% 

• 2017 Special U.S. Senate Primary Election – 17.9% 

• 2017 Special U.S. Senate General Election – 41%

• 2018 Primary Election – 25.6%.

Sure, people have as much freedom to vote as they do to not vote, but voting should never be taken for granted, regardless of the side you’re voting on. 

Lest we forget, this right hasn’t always been available to everyone. 

Monday, Feb. 3, marked 150 years since African American males were granted the right to vote. And it wasn’t until Aug. 18, 1920, that women were granted the right to vote. The push for a right to vote was a decades-long battle.

But, unfortunately, the fight for voting rights didn’t end there.

Although finally given the right to vote in 1870, people of color were tortured and driven away from the polls because of continued racial discrimination. Many people —especially in the South — saw the 15th Amendment as an option, not an actual law. Though the amendment states, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude,” African Americans still had trouble voting due to the despicable use of literacy tests, intimidation and outright violence.

It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that those barriers were outlawed at the state and local levels. It also provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50% of the non-white population had not registered to vote.

As one might imagine, many didn’t care to enforce that law very well either. In fact, within the last decade and in the last few days, there have been several accusations of voter suppression across the U.S. But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, voters have the legal means to challenge restrictions.

It’s sad, even today, such a vast number of people still have to clear hurdle after hurdle to exercise their constitutional right to vote. But even more heartbreaking is the astronomical number of people that take it for granted.

Taylor Beck is managing editor for The Reporter. He can be reached at taylor.beck@sandmountainreporter.com.

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