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Terry McAteer: California a model for voting

Terry McAteer

It always amazes me, watching television on Election Day, where we see long lines, voter ID requirements and polling place snafus in many states throughout the country.

I’ve voted in every California election for the past 44 years and have never been asked for my ID, never had to stand in line for more than five minutes, and never had an issue at any polling place. I’ve used the old-fashioned lever system in San Francisco, punch cards in San Mateo County, and fill-in boxes in Inyo and Nevada counties.

For me, voting has always been a painless system; why not the same in the rest of the country? History, as usual, tells us a lot.

California has always wanted all of its citizens to vote. Take, for example, our first election in October of 1849 when Californians were asked to ratify the newly-written state Constitution. Our Constitution set forth that all males, over the age of 21 who resided in the territory, were eligible to vote. One didn’t need to own property as was required by most other states in the U.S.; didn’t need to show a personal identification as is still required in much of our country. One also didn’t need to pay a poll tax or take a literacy test as was required in many states in our country (up until the 1960s).

When will we as a nation grow up and respect the right of every citizen to cast a vote?

In addition, a person didn’t need to be solely white as our Constitution was inclusive to Latinos, and foreign-born citizens. California even allowed those with Indian blood to apply for voting rights, which was unheard of in many other parts of this country.

Our California founding fathers were immigrants from other parts of the country and world. They were poor, didn’t own land, many were not literate but all treated each other as equals. This is unique to the West and helps explain our belief in giving everyone the right to vote and placing the least amount of hurdles in the way of our citizens to do so. Californians and the people who manage our election system respect our voting heritage by having minor, if any, voting irregularities or people who abuse the system.

The rest of the country, unfortunately, has a different voting heritage which is mired in limiting voting rights and places hurdles at the polling places. While the Supreme Court has struck down literacy requirements and poll taxes, many states have continued to institute other voting hurdles in keeping with their heritage of limiting access to voting. These practices are an anathema to us in the West.

I wish the rest of the nation could understand and witness the voting ease in California with its ample polling places — and no hanging chads — but, unfortunately, the topic of voting has become politicized.

While we all understand the history of some states that previously placed voting hurdles upon the electorate, it is abhorrent to most of us in California that our fellow Americans in other states are still practicing these methods for political gain. When will we as a nation grow up and respect the right of every citizen to cast a vote?

Imagine that day back in October of 1849 when approximately 13,000 California residents, in this newly-formed territory, showed up to vote in various locations.

They had no ID; they had no party affiliation; many were new to the region; many were born and raised as Mexican citizens; many were foreign-born and couldn’t speak English. But they voted overwhelmingly to adopt our new Constitution and apply for statehood, which occurred on September 9, 1850.

We are indebted to our California forefathers for establishing a state that encourages voting for all Californians.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.


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