Say the word “election,” and people’s eyes will glaze over at this point. The 2020 U.S. presidential election was divisive, ugly, and LONG. But there’s so much more to voting than the candidates and the issues. Let’s learn some interesting facts about voting that everyone can enjoy and even agree on.
There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes voting. It’s not a modern process. The ancient Greeks utilized voting in running their affairs. Of course, they did not use voting machines and had never heard of a hanging chad. Their methods were much simpler.
A show of hands was one way the ancient Greeks voted; you can’t get much simpler than that. But raising hands did not provide much secrecy. A more private voting method was to use pebbles. (That’s the stones and not the sugary breakfast cereal.) Voters were issued a pebble to place in one of two urns to indicate their choice. When the voting was completed, the urns would be emptied and the pebbles counted to determine the winner. But keep an eye on those pebbles! The disgruntled supporters of the loser might decide to swipe them and fling them in protest.
The use of pebbles by the Greeks is reflected in modern English vocabulary. The word for the study of elections, psephology, derives from the Greek word for pebble, psephos. Now we all have a fancy academic word to drop at the next cocktail party we attend. Oh, wait. There’s a pandemic and social gatherings are discouraged. Try using the word in a post on social medial instead.
Italians were a bit more refined than the Greeks. They didn’t want to use pebbles off the ground to conduct important political business. Our term “ballot,” the paper on which a vote is marked, means “little ball” in Italian. In places like Venice where voting was done secretly, small balls were used to indicate a vote.
In our country, prior to the Revolutionary War (that’s before we were even a country), ballots were cast by voice. All in favor of that method say “Aye.” Voters would call out their selection at a polling place–typically a courthouse or a town hall. Having voters with loud voices would have been a plus back then.
Today five voting technologies are currently in use: hand-counted paper ballots; mechanical lever machines; punch cards; optically readable paper ballots; and electronic voting machines. The use of punch cards in Florida led to a massive controversy in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Whether the presence of chads resulted in a valid vote was the subject of legal action. That’s chads as in pieces of paper still attached to the ballot after punching a selection and not men with that name.
While in 2020 the big question was who would be elected president, a more basic question is who would be doing the voting. Campaigns were launched, often involving celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Katy Perry, to encourage citizens to get out and vote. Some fail to take that civic responsibility seriously and don’t vote. But that’s the consequence of freedom in the U.S. Citizens must be allowed to choose to be irresponsible.
Getting the vote out is not as big an issue in some other countries. Take Australia, Belgium, and Turkey for instance. Voting is compulsory there. And by compulsory, I mean it is illegal not to show up and cast your vote. While compulsory voting does wonders for increasing the voter turnout rate, it hardly guarantees an informed electorate. To avoid a fine, some voters merely show up and vote randomly. They will check a box, any box, simply going through the motions of voting; no informed choice is actually made. I guess it would be “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Now I’ll have to vote for Joe.”
In the United States, it’s taken for granted women will be voting. Political commentators instead discuss which candidate is likely to get the female vote. Women voting is a more novel concept in other countries such as Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2015 that women were given the right to vote there.
The age of the U.S. presidential candidates garnered much attention in 2020 with both men in their 70’s. But what’s the voting age for those who decided the fate of these elderly politicians? A voting age is the minimum age a individual must attain before he is eligible to vote. That magic number in the U.S. is currently 18. Yup, it’s scary; teenagers have an actual say in the fate of our country.
But the voting age has not always been 18. The 14th Amendment, which was enacted back in 1868, gave men (but not women) the right to vote at age 21. The Vietnam War, though, caused much political and societal upheaval and provided the impetus for lowering the voting age to 18. Proponents of that change argued it was unfair 18 year olds could be drafted to serve their county and risk death in battle yet they could not vote. The rallying cry was “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Well, at least that was a bit more civil than the “Hell no, we won’t go” anti-draft chant.
The Voting Rights Act of 1970 reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 for national elections. The following year saw the ratification of the 26th Amendment which prohibited state and federal governments from using age to deny a U.S. citizen who was at least 18 the right to vote. As a result of that amendment, the voting age became 18 for all elections.
How low could the voting age go? Well, attempts have been made to lower the voting age to Sweet Sixteen. San Francisco’s voters on Tuesday failed to pass Proposition G, which would have allowed 16 year olds to vote in citywide elections. The rationale behind the campaign was that by that age teenagers can drive (we won’t speculate on how well) and may be working and paying taxes. A similar proposition in San Francisco was defeated in November 2016. Apparently 16 wasn’t so sweet for voters in ’16.
While Americans are clearly divided as to who should be their president, they can all agree on some things about voting. No one can deny that the process has been around for a long time and has progressed since the practices of ancient Rome. We may think the opposition candidate has rocks in his head, but at least we aren’t voting with pebbles. Woman can now have a say in how the country is run; the same is true for young men eligible to fight for their county. And with the tidbits presented in this post, voters young and old alike can have voting topics other than the results (do we even have them yet?) of the 2020 election to talk about.
If you voted in the 2020 presidential election, what voting technology was utilized? Is 16 too young to be the voting age? Why or why not? Should voting be made mandatory in the U.S.?