Voting, you might say, is in my blood. When I was growing up, my mother was the registrar for our local Virginia precinct, responsible for registering new voters and ensuring a fair and smooth election process. In the months before big elections, would-be voters would pile into our house to register, filling out their forms at our family's dining table. These voters were all white, as Virginia back then levied a poll tax to chase away low-income, minority voters. It was one of the methods that has used in this country to deny people the vote - a right that has been, and continues to be, hard fought in the courts. In Virginia's case, the poll tax was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.
In our house, Election Day was always a big event. I was proud to see my mother in my elementary school cafeteria, supervising the process. I dreamed of the time when I would be old enough to pull those levers myself. Later, when my family moved and my mother gave up her registrar's job, my parents remained politically involved. They would get up early to spend Election Day outside the polls, handing out leaflets for their favored candidates.
Later I would learn there are countries where voting is not always free and fair and can be fraught with violence. I visited Kenya in late 2007, just a month before the very contentious elections there, and saw truckloads of men in military fatigues using guns and bullhorns to threaten voters. That was the year that post-election riots led to massive violence and entire neighborhoods went up in flames.
I believe voting is one of the most important rights we enjoy as citizens of a democratic society. Over the years we have fought many battles to preserve that right, which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Certainly this year's election has been highly-charged, exposing some deep and disturbing divisions that persist in our country. But there is one thing we all share: The mandate to make our collective voices heard on Election Day.
With a Perspective, I'm Ruthann Richter.