Every vote matters

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.

Our nation has recognized Law Day since 1958, when President Eisenhower issued a proclamation recognizing the role that the rule of law played in the formation of our country.

In 1961, Congress officially established Law Day on May 1 of every year by enacting Title 36 of the U.S. Code, Section 113, which states, in part, that Law Day in the United States is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States for two reasons: (1) In appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries, and (2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

Each year, Law Day celebrates a different theme. In past years, it has explored First Amendment freedoms, the quest for equality, and the changing nature of law in the 21st century. Other years have commemorated milestones, such as Lincoln's Bicentennial and the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

This year's theme is "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters."

You may ask yourself why it matters to you.

Consider this: In 1868, President Andrew Johnson avoided removal from office by one vote. In 1940, the Selective Service Act was amended by a single vote to extend the draft term from one year to two and a half years. More recently, in the 2008 election for the Alaska House of Representatives, incumbent Mike Kelly beat out challenger Karl Kassel by only four votes. And, of course, who can forget the hanging, bulging and dimpled chads that permeated the 2000 election for President of the United States?

Many of us take voting for granted.

In fact, barely more than 51 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls for the 2000 presidential election. In contrast, Western Europe has averaged 77 percent voter turnout since 1945.

As we observe the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we must all reflect on the importance of our precious right to elect another human being into a position of governance.

That right, as described by Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, is a "civic sacrament," and we must all strive not only to exercise it ourselves, but to ensure that our fellow citizens are free to exercise it as well.

Peg O'Connor is the Gainesville chair of the 8th Judicial Circuit Bar Association Law Day Committee.

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