The Power of the Ballot: Lawyers need to be at the forefront in encouraging all citizens to vote
“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said those words in an October 5, 1944, radio address. They could not ring more true 72 years later. In that 1944 presidential election, 56 percent of the eligible voting public cast a ballot. Since then, voter turnout has cracked the 60 percent mark in only seven of 17 presidential elections. In 2012, only 58 percent of the eligible population voted. Turnout for the 2014 midterm elections was even more woeful, with only 36 percent voting. These numbers should be much higher.
Voter turnout in the United States is far less than in almost every Western democracy and a far cry from the 1876 United States presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden that saw 83 percent of eligible voters participate.
As the country is about to elect a new president and many other officeholders next month, the American Bar Association will mobilize resources and urge lawyers to encourage voting and get involved as poll workers. Voting remains a cornerstone of our democracy. The more citizens who participate, the stronger our democracy becomes.
Voting is of particular interest to the legal community since it is the foundation of the rule of law, which lawyers have a duty to protect. In light of this, the ABA asks all lawyers to be advocates for voting, urging all attorneys to vote, but also to ensure that their staff has time to vote and that their clients and communities are encouraged to vote.
The ABA remains nonpartisan and believes that lawyers have a basic obligation to build and sustain our democracy by supporting voting. We have launched several projects to help achieve that goal.
To help inspire clients and their communities to vote, the ABA has developed a card titled “Will Your Voice Be Heard on Election Day?” which lawyers can personalize and distribute to their clients and communities. The ABA is also providing a new video to schools nationwide encouraging youth involvement in the electoral process.
Our voter website provides information on encouraging voting, serving as poll workers and other resources that promote the civic duty to vote while not advocating for any particular party or cause. The website provides an interactive map with state-by-state information on voter registration, voter ID requirements, time-off-to-vote rules and other resources. You can refer to this if a client calls with a question. All this information, including a link to download the “Will Your Voice Be Heard on Election Day?” card can be found at voteyourvoicenow.org.
We want to collaborate with your state, local and other bar associations and hope you will use these resources to increase involvement nationally. Lawyers understand the need for due process and equal protection as a part of the electoral process and thus are well-suited to serve as Election Day officials.
When Ronald Reagan issued a statement in November 1981 after extending the Voting Rights Act, he stressed voting’s importance. “For this Nation to remain true to its principles, we cannot allow any American’s vote to be denied, diluted, or defiled,” he wrote. “The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.”
Voting is Americans’ civic responsibility. It is our opportunity to make our voices heard and to shape the type of government we want. Patriots have fought and died so that we can have the right to vote. All eligible people should be involved. As lawyers, we can foster that sense of civic duty. While matching the turnout from the 1876 Hayes-Tilden race may be an optimistic goal, let’s strive to substantially increase voter participation in 2016.
Each vote is a building block in our democracy. The more people who participate, the stronger our system of government and our country become. Please download the card and print it to hand out or send electronically to your clients, friends and neighbors.