Friends: Tomorrow, we citizens of Georgia, get the opportunity to exercise one of our sacred rights: the right to vote. I urge each of you to do so.
Other than serving on a jury, voting may be the single most important thing you do as a citizen. During my personal injury trials I often tell a jury that a vote on a jury is even more powerful than a vote in an election because as a jury member, your vote is one of twelve, and in an election, your vote is one of thousands. But elections have consequences, and as responsible citizens we Georgians must vote our consciences to try to shape the consequences rather than simply complain afterwards.
The United States Constitution, in Article VI, section 3, stipulates that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The Constitution, however, leaves the determination of voting qualifications to the individual states. Over time, the federal role in elections has increased through amendments to the Constitution and enacted legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At least four of the fifteen post-Civil War constitutional amendments were ratified specifically to extend voting rights to different groups of citizens. These extensions state that voting rights cannot be denied or abridged based on the following:
Birth – “All persons born or naturalized” “are citizens” of the US and the US State where they reside (14th Amendment, 1868)
“Race, color, or previous condition of servitude” – (15th Amendment, 1870)
“On account of sex” – (19th Amendment, 1920)
In Washington, DC, presidential elections after 164 year suspension by US Congress (23rd Amendment, 1961)
(For federal elections) “By reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax” – (24th Amendment, 1964)
(For state elections) Taxes – (Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966))
“Who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age” (26th Amendment, 1971).
During my travels around the State of Georgia as President of the State Bar of Georgia, I often tell folks that President Josiah Bartlett, President of the United States in the television series “The West Wing” often said “Decisions are made by those who show up.” That’s a very wise and true observation. If you want to be part of the decision-making process, go to your polling place tomorrow, show up and vote. You will be glad and proud that you did.