Just over 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which had the effect of providing robust protection to the right to vote, particularly for racial minorities.
Most people agree that voting is the most important right we enjoy. All other freedoms stem from voting in a free and fair democracy. People fought, and died, to secure the right to vote.
This history makes it even more shameful that only a quarter of Kentuckians in 2011 took advantage of that precious right. There was a 28 percent turnout in the last off-year election, the last time we chose our governor and other statewide constitutional officers.
That is, simply put, abysmal.
Although 28 percent is in line with historical turnout patterns in off-year elections in America, we should not settle for it. We can do better.
Why vote? Will your vote even make a difference? You just never know.
In the Republican primary for governor this year, the difference between the top two candidates was a mere 83 votes. Sure, if one person decided not to vote, it would not have changed the outcome. But if 83 additional people — just a handful of people from your neighborhood — had not gone to the polls, it could have altered the result.
Let's make a collective decision to vote Tuesday to ensure our democracy truly represents all of us.
Virtually every year an election somewhere in America comes down to a handful of votes. And we cannot know ahead of time which election that will be. Don't take the chance — your vote will matter.
Moreover, there are key differences between the candidates that will change the course of Kentucky over the next four years. Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin, Jack Conway and Drew Curtis have vastly diverging views on such issues as early childhood education, tax policy, economic growth and health care.
If you have a job, if you have kids, if you interact at all with society, the choices they make will affect you.
And there are important selections to make in the down-ballot races as well.
The individuals who fill the offices for attorney general, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor will affect the growing pension concern, job growth and economic development, and education policy for years to come.
There is no reason to be complacent. These issues will affect your life. Why not have a say in how they are decided?
Younger people have an even greater incentive to vote — and yet they are the ones who historically have been even less likely to head to the polls. In 2011, turnout among individuals ages 18 to24 was a miniscule 8.5 percent.
How can this be? Are young people so disaffected that they do not understand how our elected leaders will affect their lives for years to come?
I don't think so. I have faith in our youth that they do care and simply need better civic education and community encouragement. So do your part. Go out to vote. And bring a young person with you.
Need info about the voting process? Go to www.uky.edu/electionlaw for real-time analysis and updates on election law issues. UK College of Law students, under my supervision, will again provide the community with commentary about legal issues involving the election.
Don't let the legacy of the Voting Rights Act, and the struggle for universal democratic participation, fall by the wayside. Let's teach our youth about the decades-long battle to ensure equality in voting for all Americans.
Let's demonstrate how Election Day represents the best of America as we collectively gather to select leaders to govern us.
Let's shatter that turnout number from four years ago. See you at the polls.