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NEWS | April 28, 2014

American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters

By 628th Air Base Wing and 315th Airlift Wing Judge Advocates

In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower established Law Day as a day of national dedication to the principles of government under law. In 1961, Congress, by joint resolution, designated May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day.

This year, in celebration of the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 2014 Law Day theme is American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited the abridgment of the right to vote on the basis of race. From 1876 to 1965, the southern states enacted Jim Crow laws as a way to deprive black Americans the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, overruled these laws and required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get federal preclearance before enacting new voting procedures. The provision within the Voting Rights Act requiring federal preclearance was overruled by the June 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder.

The woman suffrage movement began in 1848, when the first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Over the next 50 years, suffrage supporters worked under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women's rights pioneers circulating petitions and lobbying Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment, prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on account of sex, was ratified in 1920.

President Franklin Roosevelt lowered the minimum age for the draft to 18 during World War II. At that time, the minimum voting age was determined at the state level, which had historically been 21. The 1970 Supreme Court case, Oregon v. Mitchell ruled that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum age in federal elections, but not in state or local elections. In 1971, in response to public protests and dissatisfaction with young men and women being subject to the draft, but not having the right to vote, the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, was passed, ratified and signed into law.

This year, as we celebrate American Democracy and the Rule of Law, we leave you with these words of wisdom:

"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education." - Franklin Roosevelt.

"Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President.
One hopes it is the same half." - Gore Vidal

Guest Submission:

Eliza Stanley and Julia McAtee are 7th grade students at Christ Our King Stella Maris School. The legal office extended the opportunity to multiple schools in the Charleston area to participate in a writing competition in support of Law Day. The articles were selected for their quality and content. The students were also extended the opportunity to tour the legal office and receive a photo with the Staff Judge Advocate.

Why every vote counts: The Fifteenth Amendment

By: Eliza Stanley, 7th grade at Christ Our King Stella Maris

The 15th Amendment states that the government cannot deny a person the right to vote because of race, color or previous condition of servitude. All persons are born equal; thus, all should have the right to vote. Limiting the basic right to cast a vote because of race or color was fundamentally wrong. It was a mistake, which has, thankfully, been corrected. The importance of this amendment is that it removed a barrier to full participation in the American form of government.

God created all people equal and our Constitution now protects that right of full participation. Those that were denied the right to participate in government now have it. Voting in elections is voicing an opinion on what direction America should go. Including all people in the electoral process promotes better ideas and better government. In America, we celebrate the voting process. Casting ballots by all ensures the success of our government. Not voting, not participating in government weakens our democratic system. Every vote counts. Through the 15th Amendment, race and color cannot be used as a way to silence others' beliefs and ideas for America. Everyone can exercise this God-given right. When elections are open to all citizens, the will of the people is truly heard. America is a nation created by people of various races and colors, and all their voices should be heard.

Why Every Vote Counts: The 19th Amendment

By: Julia McAtee, 7th grader at Christ Our King Stella Maris School

Every vote matters because we all play a role in our politics and society. If all citizens, male and female, take an active part in the electing of our public servants, then most likely we will see our needs met locally as well as in the federal government. We have the right to express our needs and beliefs through our elections.

The 19th Amendment which gives women the right to vote is crucial by ensuring that they can play an active role in our nation's politics. Women make up about 50 percent of the nation and half of America's work force. With this kind of power, it would be an absolute abomination if all the voting was left solely to males.

Men and women offer differing insights into the world around us. Many men are taught that using emotional reasoning is somehow wrong and they should eliminate compassion when making choices. The 19th Amendment guarantees that both genders' voices are heard through the electoral process. Women's issues and their points of view can help change America for the better. Women make a difference when they cast their votes and stand up for the rights of themselves and others. Through voting, women are helping change perceived gender roles that our society's patriarchal hegemony has set in place.

With the 19th Amendment, women are making a difference by enacting change in how America sees women. Through women voting, they are bringing about change for better or for worse, but it is their God-given, constitutional right to do so.