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 Article of Interest - Voting

Commentary by State Superintendent, Tom Watkins: Vote! Or Liberty is History

The following is an Opinion/Editorial written by Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins.


"There is a virus in the air that is infecting the foundation of our state and nation.  That virus is voter apathy.  Anyone who is eligible to vote should be registered to vote.  Everyone who is registered to vote needs to understand the candidate’s positions and the various ballot issues.  Then, they need to VOTE in the upcoming primary election, Tuesday, August 6th as well as in the general election on Tuesday, November 5th."


In the 1998 election, only 36% of registered voters voted.  That was down from 39% in 1994.  All signs point to an even smaller voting population in the important, upcoming primary election.  To be blunt, this is pathetic and unacceptable.  It does not bode well for our democracy or for our state.


Where are all the patriotic citizens who draped themselves in red, white and blue after terrorist attacks threatened our country on September 11th?  There is no more profound expression of patriotism than exercising one’s right to vote.


We are reminded that in the beginning, only white men who owned property could vote.  African Americans were kept from voting for most of the 20th century by discriminatory laws.  And women were granted the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution barely passed.  In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the legal voting age to 18. 


As Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, I believe that our role as educators is more than just teaching the three “R’s”, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.  It must also include a fourth “R”, responsibility.  If our free society is to remain free, each of us must be an involved participant in the democratic process.   If we fail to do so, the liberty we cherish could become history.


Democracy is not a spectator sport.  We need to engage every citizen to preserve and strengthen our democracy.  One person can and often does make a difference.  George W. Bush squeaked by Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election.  John Engler won the 1990 Governor’s race by only 17,000 votes with a come from behind, upset victory.  In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy experienced an extremely tight race.  These are reminders of how much each and every vote counts. Yes, a single vote has changed history.

As Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one.  I can’t do everything, but I can do something.  What I can do, I ought to do.  And by the grace of God, I will do.”  You can and should exercise your right to vote.


As the election nears, here’s a homework assignment.  These are ten things you can do to increase the voter turnout on August 6th:


  1. VOTE! 
  2. Take 10 friends with you to the polls
  3. Get an absentee ballot by calling your local city or township office
  4. Be an informed voter – call the League of Women Voter’s or Citizens Research Council
  5. Don’t know where to vote?  Call your city or township office or visit for information.
  6. If you are a business owner, encourage employees to vote – consider giving them time off to vote
  7. Hold a Get Out the Vote Rally for your neighbors and friends
  8. If you have media influence, open and close your TV and radio news show with “Get Out the Vote” messages – newspapers, begin a countdown to election day on the front page, yes, above the fold
  9. Ask major political party organizations to hold a joint press conferences to encourage EVERYONE to vote
  10. If you’re not registered to vote – it’s too late for the primary election on August 6th.  Don’t be benched for the general election on November 5th  -  register to vote, today.


Give yourself extra credit on this homework assignment if you are doing other activities to get out the vote.


Make democracy and Michigan work for you.  Exercise your right and responsibility to vote on August 6th.  Vote! Or Liberty is History.


Tom Watkins is Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.  He is an advocate for high, rigorous academic standards that prepare students to become productive and engaged citizens.  Visit the Michigan Department of Education’s website at


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