One of the founding principles of our system of government is “one man, one vote.” The implication is that every citizen gets one vote in each election and that each vote will have the same potential impact on the outcome of the election as any other person’s vote. The implication is also that, in a perfect world, no citizen will ever be denied his or her right to that vote and that all will be able to and will willingly engage in the privilege of voting for their elected officials freely, openly and eagerly.
Now, right away we can think of exceptions to how this principle works out in reality that might cause us to doubt the validity of the “one man, one vote” system. But we should not let that happen. Because despite these kinks in the system, the democracy of the election system is still fundamentally intact.
When this thing that has often been called “The Great American Experiment” got underway, our system of voting, elections and the rule of the people was virtually untried at a national scale such as it was envisioned by the founding fathers. Much of the language that is so poetic in our cornerstone documents such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence read like philosophical treatises rather than documents grounded in a hard fought awareness of reality.
But in a way, that’s a good thing. Yes, the authors of these documents were philosophers of their time. And yes, what they were describing in their vision of how this great new country would function was theoretical and based on political theory drawn from historical sources rather than immediate historical precedent. But we only have to look at the outcome to admire that it’s a good thing that the founding fathers were wiser than they were practical.
We as a people were not too small to live up to the high expectations of our founding fathers. Over the decades, amendments to the constitution were put in place, legal precedents were made and social attitudes changed so that more and more of the nation’s citizenry gained the same rights that all should have, to be able to vote in the elections of their country. Some of those landmark moments in history included…
* The fifteenth amendment which granted voting rights to African Americans.
* The fourteenth amendment which guaranteed equal protection of all citizens under the law.
* The nineteenth amendment which guaranteed voting rights for women.
* The civil rights act of 1964 which put further enforcement around these previous laws and amendments to assure equal treatment of all so access to the government is truly a right of all citizens.
Since these improvements to the original founding documents were put in place, phenomenal changes have taken place that provide concrete proof that the vision of the founding fathers was indeed something that could be a reality and not just the philosophical musings of an educated few.
One of the most noticeable social changes that has come along with the legal recognition of the rights of minorities and women to participate in the system is that the composition of the government has changed dramatically and that for the better. The three branches of government today would be virtually unrecognizable in the narrow world view that prevailed when the nation was born. But today it is common in any state in the union to see black mayors, women in congressional seats or in the governor’s mansions handling those responsibilities with the same wisdom and good judgment that male leaders tried to exhibit in previous decades.
These changes have had a positive effect not only on the fairness of how the government works but in the sense of enfranchisement all peoples feel for the affairs of the nation. Indeed, because we now see women, Hispanics, African Americans and people of all color and persuasion serving honorably in leadership, our policies are more equitable and we are much closer to having a government that really does represent the population of the nation.
Now we stand at a time when we could easily see a woman or an African American in the highest office in the land, the Presidency of the United States. And if that happens, we will see one more institution conform to the vision of the founding fathers where every citizen can participate at any level just as every citizen gets one vote.