Bob Bestler

On one day you have as much say as Trump, Obama. Why you shouldn’t let it go to waste

I’ve never spent a lot of time watching Oprah Winfrey. Nothing personal. Just not my cup of afternoon tea.

But she grabbed my attention Thursday while she campaigned for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia.

She was there to support Abrams and her passion when she discussed the importance of voting struck a chord. Much of what she said we’ve known since the second grade, but given the traditionally low turnout in American elections, it was a worthy reminder:

“Every single one of us has the same power at the polls.

“We have the ability to go into a tiny booth and every one of us, regardless of the color of our skin — it doesn’t matter when you’re at the polls.

“It doesn’t matter who you choose to love or the god you pray to, it doesn’t matter.

“Whether or not you graduated from high school or went to college or how much money you have in the bank or whether or not you have a pre-existing condition or whether you are elderly or not or whether you are developmentally disabled.

“It doesn’t matter at the polls. We are all equal in power.”

It is in fact the one day we are equal to, well, Donald Trump and Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Each of us has a single vote that counts as much as theirs.

Despite this truism, very few Americans bother to take the time to vote — or care enough.

The highest turnout for a presidential election in my lifetime was 1960, when 63 percent of Americans went to the polls to elect John Kennedy. The lowest was the 49.1 percent in 1996, when Bill Clinton was reelected over Bob Dole.

As for midterm elections, over the past half century turnout has ranged between 47 percent and 36 percent — a pretty miserable way to elect a Congress.

All these numbers are embarrassingly low when compared to other Western democracies, such as Italy, Belgium, Austria and Australia, each of which has turnout in the 90 percent range.

Most of us take voting for granted, but anyone who has moved here from an authoritarian country and become a citizen would never treat the right to vote so cavalierly.

I’m reminded of the excitement an old friend from North Myrtle Beach, The Rev. Wilmot Merchant, expressed after his first vote as a citizen. Growing up in Liberia, he had never had an opportunity to vote and now, he said, he wore his “I voted” sticker with a special sense of pride.

While researching this column, I learned why we vote on a Tuesday in November. Let me share.

Prof. Jamie P. Chandler said the time was set by Congress in 1845 when ours was an agrarian country. Harvest was over by November and Tuesdays was set as the day to vote so people could go to church on Sunday, then have time to travel to a polling place, often at long distances from their home.

Seriously, if early Americans cared enough to travel two days to exercise one of our most cherished rights, can’t we spare a few minutes on a Tuesday?

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