Participate in democracy: Vote!
The election is upon us. No one has expressed the importance of the vote better than Martin Luther King Jr. did in his “Give Us the Ballot” speech of 1957. “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote,” he said, “I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact—I can only submit to the edict of others.”
Nearly 60 years later, author and political analyst Donna Brazile observed, “For Dr. King, the right to vote was sacrosanct and foundational. It is the very essence of our social contract. Free elections create legitimacy. They imply the consent of the governed. He knew that unfair elections laws did not just hurt minorities or the working poor, they rendered hollow the very essence of American government.”
As neighbors, volunteers, workers, taxpayers and, yes, voters, each of us helps shape our community and workplace, civic life and public institutions, and our democracy. The vote is essential to the common good and to our responsibility as citizens, so, during this fractious political season, in an era of a resurgence of voter suppression, I decided to volunteer to register voters. It was something I could do to make the election more inclusive and democracy more complete.
Voting rules are not widely known, and a recent purge of voters by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted meant that many people could be unwittingly excluded from voting. My favorite destinations for prospecting for voters were dismissal time at elementary schools and at the Heights homecoming game.
It was a great experience. I was glad to find that most people I spoke with were registered. On a few occasions, I had the thrill of signing up a first-time voter. For them it was a critical transitional moment to full citizenship. Most of the people I registered were updating their registration after a move. Again, I felt like I was doing a real service, because not everyone knows their vote is tied to the address where they reside or what to do if they move.
The best part of looking for voters to register was the chance to talk to strangers. While I am uncomfortable talking politics with people I don’t know, it was easy to talk about voting. People were proud of being registered, invested in this civic responsibility and aware that the right to vote was something to cherish. They thanked me for caring and for wanting to get fellow citizens into the pipeline for voting. We connected as participants in our democracy.
Registration for the Nov. 8 election ended on Oct. 11. Voting has begun.
Speaking at the White House in early October, Congressman John Lewis, another civil rights giant and my hero, urged young people to take the next step and vote. “I gave a little blood on the bridge,” he said, “but some people gave their lives. The vote is precious. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it. And so you must go out all across America and tell young people, and people not so young, tell all of us: ‘Vote. The vote is powerful.’”
There are three ways to vote. Early in-person voting started in Ohio on Oct. 12. Cuyahoga County residents can go to the Board of Elections at 2925 Euclid Ave. to vote on weekdays, and on the weekend of Nov. 5–6. No voter identification is required.
Another option is to vote by absentee ballot. You must obtain an absentee ballot from the Board of Elections at least three days prior to the election. If you request an absentee ballot, you must use that ballot to vote. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 7 or hand-delivered to the Board of Elections by Nov. 8. Do not take them to your polling place. Again, no voter identification is required.
The third option is to vote in person on Nov. 8. The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. A photo ID, utility bill or other legal document that shows your name and voting address will be required.
Visit the Board of Elections at www.boe.cuyahogacounty.us for questions about your registration, voting location, or voting hours.
Whatever method you use, be an active creator of our democracy. Vote!
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.