— Franklin D. Roosevelt
Call me an ole country boy at heart, but I can only think of one thing that’s more important in this life than exercising one’s right to vote, and that’s getting right with the Lord.
Now, as soon as I typed that statement, I regretted it. Not because of the getting right with the Lord thing, because that has monumental consequences if you don’t do it. No, I’m talking about the part where I say voting is a right. I can see all the comments now below this column on Facebook and elsewhere as it has long been debated in both the historical and political circles. Is it a right or a privilege?
Obviously, I land on the right side of this argument, no pun intended.
In fact, the right to vote appears most often in the Constitution’s text, more than freedom of speech or free exercise of religion or the right to keep and bear arms.
“The ‘privilege’ theory is one the United States regards as dangerous – when practiced by other countries,” said Garrett Epps, a contributing editor for “The Atlantic” in a 2012 column. “After World War II, we imposed a constitution on Japan providing that ‘universal adult suffrage is guaranteed.’ The ‘Basic Law’ of Germany gained a provision that ‘[a]ny person who has attained the age of 18 shall be entitled to vote.’ The citizens of Afghanistan ‘have the right to elect and be elected.’ Article 20 of the 2005 Constitution of Iraq provides that ‘Iraqi citizens, men and women, shall have the right to participate in public affairs and to enjoy political rights, including the right to vote, elect and run for office.’
I digress. The right-privilege debate isn’t the reason for this column today. Rather, it’s the act of voting that’s so important. I’ve always said that you can’t complain about elected officials if you don’t vote. How’s that for a right? Or is it a privilege?
Again, I digress. Here’s my argument in a nutshell. According to Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren, in this same election we are about to embark upon four years ago, there were 76,915 registered voters in Wilson County. Yet, only 22,375 votes were cast. To avoid the calculators from coming out, that’s 29.09 percent of voter turnout in the 2014 Wilson County General Election and state and national primaries. That’s less than a third of the population who elected people for county mayor, sheriff, county commissioners, trustee, register of deeds, circuit clerk, school boards, etc.
Most importantly, it’s pitiful. It’s pitiful in a state that’s historically pitiful at the polls. According to Pew, Tennessee ranked 40th in the nation in voter registration and last in voter turnout in 2017.
Warren said as of Friday, there were 81,016 registered voters in Wilson County, which is also rather sad since our population is close to 140,000 people.
I believe we can do better than a third this time around. I believe we can rock the vote. Please join me in heading to the polls during early voting July 13-28 or Aug. 2 on Election Day. If for nothing else, do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Jared Felkins is a registered voter in Wilson County’s 10th District, state House District 46, state Senate District 17 and Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District. He’s also editor of The Democrat. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.