"The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged..."
26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
In 2006, six out of 10 eligible Americans didn't bother to exercise their right to vote. In an election year filled with hotly contested congressional races that ultimately shifted the balance of power in Congress, turnout wasn't even lukewarm.
Granted, it was a midterm year, without a presidential race to fire up the electorate. But the participation level also was symbolic of the semiconscious state of political awareness and engagement too many Americans have assumed since the 1960s. Even with spikes every four years for the presidential elections, voter turnout has followed a troubling trajectory in recent decades, rarely exceeding 60 percent even when there's a controversy on the ballot. Last November, one municipal election in Texas reported a 6.73-percent turnout of registered voters.
Some would argue that American disenfranchisement is nothing more than a myth built on skewed statistics that overestimate the number of eligible voters. Some believe that pre-election polls too often predetermine outcomes, and that early reporting of results across the time zones keeps voters home. In some communities, however, the problem can be pinned on such routine matters as a shortage of volunteers to work at the polls, time constraints for busy families and, worst of all, lack of knowledge about who or what to vote for.
That's where we come in.
As the 2008 election year unfolds, The American Legion will lead a nonpartisan nationwide campaign called "Vote America '08."
The program addresses voter participation from three directions:
- At the local post level, the program will key on voter registration, coordination of community election forums and "meet-the-candidate" nights, poll-worker volunteerism, and generally making it as easy and convenient as possible to participate in the democratic process.
- At the state level, American Legion departments will help organize and promote election forums and candidate debates to improve public knowledge of the issues and awareness of candidate positions.
- Nationally, the Legion will work hard this year to educate and motivate voters, particularly on issues relevant to the organization's resolutions and principles, such as veterans health care and benefits, homeland security, flag protection and national defense.
For over a half-century, since the passage of Resolution 136 at the 1952 National Convention, The American Legion has made a high priority of strong voter knowledge and turnout. The concern imparted in that resolution - "whereas, our democratic republic is threatened by an apathetic populace who choose not to participate in our country's electoral process" - is the same today as it was then, when American troops were, as they are today, risking their lives and spilling their blood in foreign lands where tyrannies of the past have feared little more than the idea of free elections.