by State Superintendent, Tom Watkins: Vote! Or Liberty is
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
Take 10 friends with you to the polls
Get an absentee ballot by calling your local city or
Be an informed voter – call the League of Women
Voter’s or Citizens Research Council
Don’t know where to vote? Call your city or township
office or visit for information.
If you are a business owner, encourage employees to
vote – consider giving them time off to vote
Hold a Get Out the Vote Rally for your neighbors and
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
Ask major political party organizations to hold a
joint press conferences to encourage EVERYONE to vote
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
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