Any student of world history can tell you that the concept of democracy is handed down to us by the culture and governance of ancient Greece. The word democracy is derived from two Greek words: “demos,” or people; and “kratos,” or rule. A fellow named Cleisthenes was from ancient Athens, and in 508 BC he set his city on a democratic footing, for which he is known as the father of Athenian democracy.
Democracy in Athens was different from what we know it to be today. It was considered a direct democracy that had two distinguishing features. The first was the random selection of ordinary citizens to fill the small number of administrative and judicial government positions. The second was a legislative assembly consisting of all Athenian citizens. “All” eligible citizens were permitted to speak and vote in the assembly – provided, of course, that you were not female, not a slave, not a foreigner and not a male under 20 years of age. By modern standards, this is not a very liberal way to define the electorate, but in the context of those times the status of “citizen” was granted to the population based on their ability to fight in military campaigns.
As centuries passed and history progressed, democracy and democratic concepts took hold and survived among other forms of government, such as dictatorships, monarchies and other local and regional types. As democracy was applied to larger, more-diverse groups of people and larger territories, direct democracy gave way to representative democracies. In its representative form, democracy provided a platform upon which people elected representatives to enact legislation for them and, eventually, to vote for their own political leaders. These were facilitated through the evolution of some of the fundamentals of democratic theory and practice, such as freedom of assembly, equality, rights, majority rule and (of course) voting.
The casting of ballots, or voting, is a method for a large group of people to express an opinion or preference on candidates and issues. Voting is the essence of the democratic process in this country. Collectively, each person’s single vote is the DNA of our democracy. In the U.S., the world’s pre-eminent democracy, the right to vote is granted to each eligible citizen. In my view, voting is so sacred in this country that it should be considered as much a rite as a right.
However, the popular vote does not elect our president and vice president. For this, the framers of our constitution said the following in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”
This defines the Electoral College, the establishment of which has its own rich history. Each state is assigned electoral votes according to its representation in Congress. Each person’s individual vote is counted by the state in which it was cast, which then casts its electoral votes according to the vote tally of the state. Article II, Section I, Clause 3 further defines this body: “The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.”
My goal here is to add some historical perspective to the precious voting rights we possess. They have been fought for and hard-won countless times in our history. Our voting rights have been dearly paid for and should not be squandered by inaction. So, go and vote by whatever means are convenient and available to you in this time of pandemic.
Regardless of the color of your political stripe, you can do no greater service to your country and your countrymen than by exercising your right by November 3.
- Dean M. Peters, Editor