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Let's get out and vote
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With early voting for Tennessee state primary and county general elections starting Friday, July 18, here’s my prediction on voter turnout: underwhelming. 
I hope my prediction is wrong, but I fear it will turn out to be right. Potential voters tend to stay away in droves from the polls, especially when it comes to state primary and local general elections. They offer a thousand lame excuses -- and no good reasons for their failure to participate in one of our most fundamental rights as American citizens.
The main lame excuse offered by non-voters is, “I was too busy.” Really? Surely, they jest. Actually, voting in America is easier and more convenient than ever, thanks partly to early and absentee balloting.
More importantly, the voting rights we take for granted today come from hard-won battles for voter expansion and participation. Victory on these fronts is enshrined in constitutional and legislative history. When the Constitution was first written in 1787, most of the  Framers opposed universal suffrage. Gradually, we have progressed as a society to include groups too long disenfranchised, including women, ethnic and racial minorities.
Of the 17 constitutional amendments ratified since the Bill of Rights in 1791, at least six have directly expanded voter eligibility and potential power at the polls. For example, the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified Feb. 3, 1870, gave voting rights to black males over age 21, but not to females of any race or color. Ironically, women risked life and limb to help ratify this amendment, even though they were excluded from its provisions.
 Fifty years later, the perseverance of the women’s suffrage movement and their supporters nationwide paid off in the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Finally, women could voice their vote and make it matter at national, state and local levels; they’ve continued to do so ever since.
 The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified April 8, 1913, took the right to elect our U.S. senators away from state legislatures and gave it to the voters in each state. The Twenty-Third, ratified March 29, 1961, gave District of Columbia voters the right to vote for president and vice president. The Twenty-Fourth, ratified Jan. 23, 1964, outlawed the  controversial “poll tax,” thereby prohibiting states from taxing our right to vote. The Twenty-Sixth extended voting rights to otherwise qualified persons 18 years of age or older.
We the People have come  a long way in expanding our voting rights and potential political power. Low voter turnout trivializes our progress and saps our political power. We need to turn our potential energy into kinetic energy. So get out there and vote!   
 Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at