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Why Was the Election of 2008 Important?

Why Was the Election of 2008 Important?


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Learn about the events surrounding the historical election of 2008: how Barack Obama became the Democratic presidential contender against Hillary Clinton and how he ultimately beat John McCain to become the first black president in U.S. history.


Why Was the Election of 2008 Important? - HISTORY

There are some who say that American Presidential elections are not that important, that we progressives should not spend too much of our precious time on them. Nevertheless, Presidential elections are important because they are a part of the civic process of political legitimation and validation in America’s mass-mediated democratic society. American voters get to decide which political party controls the State, and which party forms an administration that defines domestic and foreign policy.

In the United States, Presidential elections are particularly important because they involve mobilized bureaucratic political machines, the large corporations, and tens of millions of millions of Americans who vote and get involved in doing the daily work of the political parties. Because so many people perceive and act as though elections are important, they become important and real in their consequences.

In the US, the two large bureaucratic political party machines, the Democratic and Republican Parties, administer, organize, and take responsibility for the lengthy and costly voting and election process. Here the ultimate prize is political power for the next US President, its administration, and the Party that got them into power. Political organizers and strategists in both parties are paid big bucks to get results.

The powerful corporations certainly consider elections very important and spend millions to make sure that their economic interests and power are represented by both parties. The Pentagonians and the Generals also get their say on the television, making sure that whoever wins understands the need for an ever expanding defense budget to fight the “war on terror” indefinitely into the future. It will be difficult for either candidate to change very much of this. The empire must be defended.

The recent rhetorical war of words between the Obama and Clinton campaigns and their supporters are now constantly flooding the airways and streaming through our radios, newspapers, internet servers, and the mainstream media.

Like John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton has pushed national security issues to the foreground suggesting that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief like she and McCain are. She says she will be “ready to act on day one,” like she was when she supported Bush and voted for the use of force in Iraq.

Obama, at least, has stated he would want more emphasis on diplomacy and a more cautious and multilateral use of American military power. He continues to criticize the “disastrous” decision to launch the Iraq war, and has begun to raise an issue of concern to progressives “the possible alternative domestic problems that could be addressed with the trillions of dollars going to Iraq. While Obama’s campaign has received support from many progressive Democrats like Tom Haden and media critic Robert Solomon who want an end to the war, he also has also received substantial support and money from elements in the ruling class and the corporate establishment who may believe that the current disastrous trajectory of the country threatens even their interests.

Why the 2008 Elections Are Historic

The 2008 American Presidential elections are already historic, and scholars and journalists will be writing dissertations and books on it for years. A Democratic Party victory of either Presidential candidate, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton, would be a significant historic event. Furthermore, a landslide repudiation of Bush’s war policies (and the consequent economic downturn partially generated by the dramatic increase in the price of oil), and a good electoral trouncing of John Mc Cain, would also be historically significant. It would restore hope in a war weary and divided world that wants signs of a visible change and greater rationality in American policies.

An Obama victory could undoubtedly heal some of the sensitive racial wounds that have been an undeniable ugly part of American history, although some skeptics still warn that an Obama Presidency could re-inflame them. Hillary Clinton ‘ s victory would also be historic because we would have our first female President, proof that we have come a long way from the times when women could not even vote.

Both candidates have received a tremendous amount of support from the American people. Yet, the “identity politics” of race and gender that have so far played a role will likely be trumped by the bigger issues such as the economy and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A joint ticket is near an impossibility given the mudslinging and personal attacks of the past week, most of it initiated by Clinton who is now demanding a costly revote in Michigan and Florida. Now many media commentators and political pundits are questioning whether there can even be a peaceful reconciliation within the Democratic Party. A bitter struggle to the end decided by the super delegates at the convention could be a disaster. and might just be enough to accomplish the impossible - another Republican victory in November by a pro war John McCain.

Let’s face it. Within the two party system, politics involves a cynical and often times ruthless struggle for power. The power to choose the next Supreme Court justices, the power to decide when and where to deploy American forces, and ultimately the power to decide when military force will be used against others is at stake. It also means the power to frame public perceptions, to alter the tax structure, to define the scope of civil liberties and human rights, and to develop specific policies regarding domestic environmental and social problems.

Third Party Candidates

Based on the historical and documentary record, we can conclude that the two political party machines do everything in their power to maintain a monopoly of legitimacy and prevent Third Party candidates from getting a serious hearing. Gaining control of the state apparatus is essential to both political machines. To do this they must monopolize political discourse and silence outsiders. This is why there has never been a successful third party candidacy for President in American history. The established social structure, the power of corporations and the mainstream media, as well as the cultural political traditions in America, are aggressively mobilized against it.

Instead, third party candidacies are invariably made into a scapegoat by the losing party. The strong historical pattern is for defeated parties to project their faults and failures onto the back of the “goat” as it is sent off into the wilderness. This is essentially what has happened to Ralph Nader since the controversial 2000 elections where the Supreme Court intervened to stop a Florida recount.

The organizational prospects of a powerful social movement for change propelling a successful third party candidate are currently weak, if not non-existent, in spite of the polls which show a majority of Americans opposed to the war. While many have raised a big stink about another Nader candidacy, it is unlikely that Nader will have any impact on the final results of the 2008 elections. All a third party candidate like Nader can hope to do at this point is gain enough legitimacy and recognition to raise public issues that are considered two controversial by the two political machines. Nader’s celebrity status will allow some of this to happen, but it is unlikely to have any substantial effect on the final election results in spite of the scary scenarios drummed up by revived Nader critics.

The American Legitimacy Crisis

Trotsky once said that “every state is founded on force.” The sociologist Max Weber agreed. However, Weber added another complicating factor, the issue of “legitimacy.” He defined the state as an institution that “monopolizes the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.” By extension, an imperial state like the United States tries to monopolize the legitimate use of violence internationally, blessing all of its military actions with the impeccable label of defense.

Voting is a powerful means of providing legitimacy for the state on the domestic front. This explains why a small number of progressives and idealists, despairing of the prospect for change within the electoral political game defined by the ruling class and its two political parties, opt out and refuse to vote or insist on voting outside of the two party duopoly.

The next American President will face an unprecedented international “legitimacy crisis” around the world regarding the “war on terror,” a possible serious economic recession and financial crisis, and the growing military burden and economic costs of the two endless counter insurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the next President will face the continued political instability and violence caused by the iron fisted Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and the possible collapse of peace talks. Furthermore, they will continue to face more resistance, rebellion, and change in their backyard in Central and South America. Finally, they will be faced with an environmental crisis of runaway global warming that could dwarf anything we have seen in the past.

It is a hopeful sign that most Americans say they want to see change away from the current Bush policies of torture, occupation, and war. Some of this hope is providing a higher turnout in the Democratic primaries around the country. The next election will reveal just how deep that desire for change really is. One thing is certain. We are entering a period of troubled times for the overstretched American Empire and its exhausted military. It is time to bring the troops home and seek genuine multilateral and international solutions to numerous difficult political conflicts.


Social Significance of Obama's Election

The U.S. election was not merely a local affair as the world awaited its outcome with great intensity. I had never been interested in the U.S. presidential election until this year and the reason for my interest is Barack Obama. My feelings are not influenced by his African roots or his middle name (Hussein), as I do not form my opinions on the basis of anyone&rsquos religion, whatever it may be. Even in the United States, those who pointed to Obama&rsquos roots or religion met with disapproval. Most notable was the position taken by Colin Powell&mdasha high profile figure in the Republican Party&mdashwho correctly asked &ldquoso what if Obama were a Muslim?&rdquo underlining that the nature of the question ran contrary to the spirit of the United States. He then announced his support for Obama despite his party affiliation.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.


The Most Important Election in History

Is it possible to elect a president without invoking that phrase?

By Christopher Clausen | September 1, 2008

In July 1864, as President Abraham Lincoln prepared to run for a second term against General George B. McClellan, The New York Times editorialized: “We have had many important elections, but never one so important as that now approaching….The republic is approaching what is to be one of the most important elections in its history.” The Civil War had been raging for three years and seemed to be at a stalemate. Lincoln was for fighting on until victory, regardless of the cost. McClellan supported compromise and negotiation to end the bloodiest conflict in American history. As everybody knows, Lincoln won the election, the Union soon won the war, and McClellan’s reputation never recovered.

The expression “the most important election in history,” however, achieved immortality. “Every even-numbered year,” Senator John McCain told an interviewer in 2006, “politicians go around and say ‘This is the most important election in history.’” As the republic’s history lengthened, the phrase often mutated into “the most important election in my lifetime” or “in a century.” Still, in all its forms it proved remarkably resistant to irony or derision. In 1988, when George H. W. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, the already venerable Senator Robert C. Byrd declared: “It may be the most important election of this century.” In 1992, when Bush ran for re-election against Bill Clinton, Clinton declared it “the most important election in a generation,” generation being a word that sounds weighty and biblical but is often deployed without any precise meaning.

By 1996, when Clinton himself was running for a second term against Senator Robert Dole, Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, declared it “the most important election of our lifetime,” while John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, pushed the envelope by describing it as “the most critical election in the long history of the American labor movement.” In November 2000 Ebony magazine tried to re-establish a sense of proportion by asserting, “The first national election of the 21st century is the most important election (so far) of the 21st century,” though strictly speaking it was still the 20th. By 2004 everyone was getting in on the act, from the rock band Pearl Jam (“the most important [election] of our lifetime”) to Bruce Springsteen and Democratic nominee John Kerry (“the most important election of our lifetime”) to the Christian Coalition again (“the most important election in our nation’s history”).

Early in the 2008 campaign three presidential candidates, Senators Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd, and Barack Obama, separately avowed in more or less identical words that whatever anyone might have thought four or eight or 16 years earlier, this was the big one, “the most important election in my lifetime.” (Only Obama had the vanity or wit to add “not just because I’m running.”) Meanwhile, surrogates for two other candidates, McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton, upped the ante to “a century or more” and “in our nation’s history” respectively. Like “ready from day one” and “commander-in-chief test,” the phrase had become one of the ritual incantations of presidential campaigns.

Has there ever been an election that some people didn’t narcissistically proclaim the most important in their lifetimes? Perhaps, but such episodes are evidently so rare that they never get recorded. Consider, if you will, the 1924 contest between President Calvin Coolidge (Republican) and challenger John W. Davis (Democrat). Would the Jazz Age have turned out much differently if Davis had won instead of Coolidge? Few historians have lost sleep over the question. Yet Joseph Levenson, a New York Republican leader, announced that year, “I look upon the coming election as the most important in the history of this country since the Civil War.”

Remembering deservedly forgotten campaigns is an invitation to calm down and take the long view. It could easily be argued that the most important election in American history was the first, the selection of George Washington as president in 1789, even though he had no opponent. Why? Because it established the precedent of quadrennial elections as laid down by the Constitution—never since broken—and led to the creation of the entire federal government. The 1800 presidential election was also momentous in that despite having been bitterly contested by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it brought about the first transition of power from one political party to its adversaries. In 1860, the choice of Abraham Lincoln precipitated the Civil War. The election of 1932 brought Franklin D. Roosevelt to power and transformed the scope and reach of the federal government in ways that none of his 11 successors (six of them Republicans) has fundamentally changed.

Once the 2008 campaign got under way, Democrats and many media pundits started talking incessantly of a “change election” that would be—surprise!—one of the most important in history. What they meant, deep down, was that they hoped it would obliterate what they considered the voters’ disastrous mistake four years earlier in re-electing George W. Bush. Yet in the longer view, is 2008 likely to prove a historic election, apart from the possibility of the first African-American president? We won’t know for a while, but to rank with 1860 or 1932, it would have to deliver durable changes greater than any currently visible on the horizon, unless Ralph Nader should happen to get lucky this time.

Whether or not it suits candidates and the press to say so, most elections are fortunately a lot more like 1924 than 1932, let alone 1860. Probably the most candid and sensible comment on the whole subject was delivered by the notoriously inarticulate President Bush when Larry King asked him in 2004 whether that year’s election was the most important ever. “For me it is,” he answered.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Christopher Clausen is the author of Faded Mosaic: The Emergence of Post-Cultural America.


It's Time to Retire the Phrase, 'This Is the Most Important Election . '

Candidates can be forgiven for misjudging or exaggerating the import of their own electoral contests. Of course Newt Gingrich thought the race he joined was fundamentally transformative. But what inspires pundits to declare that "this is the most important election of our lives"? Dennis Prager is the latest to do so. "The usual description of presidential elections -- 'the most important in our lifetime' -- is true this time," he wrote in his Creator's Syndicate column. "In fact, it may be the most important election since the Civil War, and possibly since America's founding."

Why does he think the contest between Obama and Romney is possibly more important than the elections that brought us Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan? "Election Day 2012 will not be a presidential election. It will be a plebiscite. Americans will not only be voting for a president . They will be participating in a plebiscite on the definition of America," Prager wrote. "If Americans reelect the Democrat, Barack Obama, they will have announced that America should be like Western European countries -- governed by left-wing values. Americans will have decided that America's value system -- 'Liberty,' 'In God We Trust,' 'E Pluribus Unum' -- should be replaced. The election in November is therefore a plebiscite on the American Revolution."

I emphatically disagree. I don't think the average swing voter is deciding whether they want to preserve or abandon traditional American values. Were Obama voters asked, "Do you favor liberty and the American Revolution?" the "yes" vote would win in a landslide. Even if Obama wins, I very much doubt Prager himself will concede that he has a mandate to transform America into France.

Of course, Prager was claiming that another election was the "most important" as recently as . 2010:

Next Tuesday, November 2, 2010 is not Election Day. It is Referendum Day. It may be commonplace for commentators to announce that every election is "the most important election in our lifetime" or something analogous. But having never said that of a presidential election, let alone an off-year election, this commentator cannot be accused of crying wolf when I say that this off-year election is not simply the most important of my lifetime.

It is the most important since the Civil War.

And he is hardly unique in promiscuously assigning historic import to Republican electoral victories.

Said Limbaugh in 2000: "No question about it. This is the most important election in our history."

Bill O'Reilly says 2012 is the most important election of our lifetime. He thought the same thing in 2008.

Michael Barone thought Election 2004 was the most important "in generations" too.

Are these pundits trying to boost voter turnout for the candidate they favor by exaggerating the import of the election? Are they so lacking in perspective that they really believe the present moment is more important than most of American history? I don't know why they've reached these conclusions, just that they're almost always wrong.

In 2008, Reason magazine surveyed various contributors about the presidential election being held that year. One of the questions posed: "Is this the most important election in your lifetime?"

Several of the answers were instructive:

  • "It's not, since the ideological and policy differences between Reagan and Carter (for one example) were much bigger than between the two current candidates."
  • "No. There's too little difference between the major party candidates for there to be much riding on this election. It's really only a matter of if you want a huge federal government undertaking grand leftist programs, or if you want a huge federal government undertaking grand rightist programs."
  • "Elections are vastly overrated as a means for restraining government abuses. The more people who believe that the 2008 election will end the abuses of the Bush era, the easier it will be for the next president to perpetuate Bush's noxious principles and precedents."
  • "The 2000 election was the most important election of my lifetime, but nobody knew it at the time. Since I don't know the future this year either, I can't answer the question."
  • "How can one know? That will depend entirely on what the next president decides to do. But, yes, it might potentially be the most important election given all the disastrous policies that are now back on the table. "
  • "I'm not convinced that many elections in the United States are that important, but the tragicomedy of American life is that we have a generally representative government, which is a damning comment on us. Elections can be more or less interesting but this one, despite the trappings of generational and ideological shifts, is not."

What those answers have in common is a modesty that explains why, four years later, none of them looks silly or discrediting. Is Election 2012 the most important in American history? Not unless the outcome largely determines whether we have a civil war. The most important since 1860? Almost certainly not. The most important in our lifetime? Odds are against it, and even if it turns out to be so, we can't reliably predict that going in. If anyone tells you that "this is the most important election. " best to keep your wits, secure your wallet, and insist that at best they're guessing -- whereas at worst they're repeating what they've promiscuously said about bygone elections too.


When Wall Street went into a spiral it was if someone had handed the key to the election to Barack Obama and said "take this, it&aposs yours". He couldn&apost have asked for a better gift at a better time.

Up to this point the Illinois senator had just been holding his own with John McCain but when major banking institutions started to collapse Obama again rode the wave of opportunity and bolted ahead of his opponent never looking back.

McCain did himself no favors in his handling of the news of the financial meltdown by declaring "The fundamentals of the economy are strong" essentially saying there was nothing to fear.

But there was and Obama knew it.

His calm and reserved approach to the catastrophe was in stark contrast to McCain&aposs erratic response which included suspending his campaign. A move that pretty much sealed his fate.

The problems with the economy seemed to be a custom fit for Obama&aposs campaign. It was his strongest ally and he used it to his advantage.

Obama never looked more presidential than when he was dealing with the issues of the economy and it was that look that helped him to win the election.


The Historic Importance of the 2008 Presidential Elections

There are some who say that American Presidential elections are not that important, that we progressives should not spend too much of our precious time on them. Nevertheless, Presidential elections are important because they are a part of the civic process of political legitimation and validation in America’s mass-mediated democratic society. American voters get to decide which political party controls the State, and which party forms an administration that defines domestic and foreign policy.

In the United States, Presidential elections are particularly important because they involve mobilized bureaucratic political machines, the large corporations, and tens of millions of millions of Americans who vote and get involved in doing the daily work of the political parties. Because so many people perceive and act as though elections are important, they become important and real in their consequences.

In the US, the two large bureaucratic political party machines, the Democratic and Republican Parties, administer, organize, and take responsibility for the lengthy and costly voting and election process. Here the ultimate prize is political power for the next US President, its administration, and the Party that got them into power. Political organizers and strategists in both parties are paid big bucks to get results.

The powerful corporations certainly consider elections very important and spend millions to make sure that their economic interests and power are represented by both parties. The Pentagonians and the Generals also get their say on the television, making sure that whoever wins understands the need for an ever expanding defense budget to fight the “war on terror” indefinitely into the future. It will be difficult for either candidate to change very much of this. The empire must be defended.

The recent rhetorical war of words between the Obama and Clinton campaigns and their supporters are now constantly flooding the airways and streaming through our radios, newspapers, internet servers, and the mainstream media.

Like John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton has pushed national security issues to the foreground suggesting that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief like she and McCain are. She says she will be “ready to act on day one,” like she was when she supported Bush and voted for the use of force in Iraq.

Obama, at least, has stated he would want more emphasis on diplomacy and a more cautious and multilateral use of American military power. He continues to criticize the “disastrous” decision to launch the Iraq war, and has begun to raise an issue of concern to progressives “the possible alternative domestic problems that could be addressed with the trillions of dollars going to Iraq. While Obama’s campaign has received support from many progressive Democrats like Tom Haden and media critic Robert Solomon who want an end to the war, he also has also received substantial support and money from elements in the ruling class and the corporate establishment who may believe that the current disastrous trajectory of the country threatens even their interests.

Why the 2008 Elections Are Historic

The 2008 American Presidential elections are already historic, and scholars and journalists will be writing dissertations and books on it for years. A Democratic Party victory of either Presidential candidate, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton, would be a significant historic event. Furthermore, a landslide repudiation of Bush’s war policies (and the consequent economic downturn partially generated by the dramatic increase in the price of oil), and a good electoral trouncing of John Mc Cain, would also be historically significant. It would restore hope in a war weary and divided world that wants signs of a visible change and greater rationality in American policies.

An Obama victory could undoubtedly heal some of the sensitive racial wounds that have been an undeniable ugly part of American history, although some skeptics still warn that an Obama Presidency could re-inflame them. Hillary Clinton ‘ s victory would also be historic because we would have our first female President, proof that we have come a long way from the times when women could not even vote.

Both candidates have received a tremendous amount of support from the American people. Yet, the “identity politics” of race and gender that have so far played a role will likely be trumped by the bigger issues such as the economy and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A joint ticket is near an impossibility given the mudslinging and personal attacks of the past week, most of it initiated by Clinton who is now demanding a costly revote in Michigan and Florida. Now many media commentators and political pundits are questioning whether there can even be a peaceful reconciliation within the Democratic Party. A bitter struggle to the end decided by the super delegates at the convention could be a disaster. and might just be enough to accomplish the impossible – another Republican victory in November by a pro war John McCain.

Let’s face it. Within the two party system, politics involves a cynical and often times ruthless struggle for power. The power to choose the next Supreme Court justices, the power to decide when and where to deploy American forces, and ultimately the power to decide when military force will be used against others is at stake. It also means the power to frame public perceptions, to alter the tax structure, to define the scope of civil liberties and human rights, and to develop specific policies regarding domestic environmental and social problems.

Third Party Candidates

Based on the historical and documentary record, we can conclude that the two political party machines do everything in their power to maintain a monopoly of legitimacy and prevent Third Party candidates from getting a serious hearing. Gaining control of the state apparatus is essential to both political machines. To do this they must monopolize political discourse and silence outsiders. This is why there has never been a successful third party candidacy for President in American history. The established social structure, the power of corporations and the mainstream media, as well as the cultural political traditions in America, are aggressively mobilized against it.

Instead, third party candidacies are invariably made into a scapegoat by the losing party. The strong historical pattern is for defeated parties to project their faults and failures onto the back of the “goat” as it is sent off into the wilderness. This is essentially what has happened to Ralph Nader since the controversial 2000 elections where the Supreme Court intervened to stop a Florida recount.

The organizational prospects of a powerful social movement for change propelling a successful third party candidate are currently weak, if not non-existent, in spite of the polls which show a majority of Americans opposed to the war. While many have raised a big stink about another Nader candidacy, it is unlikely that Nader will have any impact on the final results of the 2008 elections. All a third party candidate like Nader can hope to do at this point is gain enough legitimacy and recognition to raise public issues that are considered two controversial by the two political machines. Nader’s celebrity status will allow some of this to happen, but it is unlikely to have any substantial effect on the final election results in spite of the scary scenarios drummed up by revived Nader critics.

The American Legitimacy Crisis

Trotsky once said that “every state is founded on force.” The sociologist Max Weber agreed. However, Weber added another complicating factor, the issue of “legitimacy.” He defined the state as an institution that “monopolizes the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.” By extension, an imperial state like the United States tries to monopolize the legitimate use of violence internationally, blessing all of its military actions with the impeccable label of defense.

Voting is a powerful means of providing legitimacy for the state on the domestic front. This explains why a small number of progressives and idealists, despairing of the prospect for change within the electoral political game defined by the ruling class and its two political parties, opt out and refuse to vote or insist on voting outside of the two party duopoly.

The next American President will face an unprecedented international “legitimacy crisis” around the world regarding the “war on terror,” a possible serious economic recession and financial crisis, and the growing military burden and economic costs of the two endless counter insurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the next President will face the continued political instability and violence caused by the iron fisted Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and the possible collapse of peace talks. Furthermore, they will continue to face more resistance, rebellion, and change in their backyard in Central and South America. Finally, they will be faced with an environmental crisis of runaway global warming that could dwarf anything we have seen in the past.

It is a hopeful sign that most Americans say they want to see change away from the current Bush policies of torture, occupation, and war. Some of this hope is providing a higher turnout in the Democratic primaries around the country. The next election will reveal just how deep that desire for change really is. One thing is certain. We are entering a period of troubled times for the overstretched American Empire and its exhausted military. It is time to bring the troops home and seek genuine multilateral and international solutions to numerous difficult political conflicts.


Why Voting Is Important

&ldquoVoting is your civic duty.&rdquo This is a pretty common sentiment, especially each November as Election Day approaches. But what does it really mean? And what does it mean for Americans in particular?

Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History

Americans Voting

Typically in the United States, national elections draw large numbers of voters compared to local elections.

A History of Voting in the United States

Today, most American citizens over the age of 18 are entitled to vote in federal and state elections, but voting was not always a default right for all Americans. The United States Constitution, as originally written, did not define specifically who could or could not vote&mdashbut it did establish how the new country would vote.

Article 1 of the Constitution determined that members of the Senate and House of Representatives would both be elected directly by popular vote. The president, however, would be elected not by direct vote, but rather by the Electoral College. The Electoral College assigns a number of representative votes per state, typically based on the state&rsquos population. This indirect election method was seen as a balance between the popular vote and using a state&rsquos representatives in Congress to elect a president.

Because the Constitution did not specifically say who could vote, this question was largely left to the states into the 1800s. In most cases, landowning white men were eligible to vote, while white women, black people, and other disadvantaged groups of the time were excluded from voting (known as disenfranchisement).

While no longer explicitly excluded, voter suppression is a problem in many parts of the country. Some politicians try to win reelection by making it harder for certain populations and demographics to vote. These politicians may use strategies such as reducing polling locations in predominantly African American or Lantinx neighborhoods, or only having polling stations open during business hours, when many disenfranchised populations are working and unable to take time off.

It was not until the 15 th Amendment was passed in 1869 that black men were allowed to vote. But even so, many would-be voters faced artificial hurdles like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other measures meant to discourage them from exercising their voting right. This would continue until the 24 th Amendment in 1964, which eliminated the poll tax, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended Jim Crow laws. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, when the long efforts of the women&rsquos suffrage movement resulted in the 19 th Amendment.

With these amendments removing the previous barriers to voting (particularly sex and race), theoretically all American citizens over the age of 21 could vote by the mid 1960s. Later, in 1971, the American voting age was lowered to 18, building on the idea that if a person was old enough to serve their country in the military, they should be allowed to vote.

With these constitutional amendments and legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the struggle for widespread voting rights evolved from the Founding Fathers&rsquo era to the late 20 th century.

Why Your Vote Matters

If you ever think that just one vote in a sea of millions cannot make much of a difference, consider some of the closest elections in U.S. history.

In 2000, Al Gore narrowly lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush. The election came down to a recount in Florida, where Bush had won the popular vote by such a small margin that it triggered an automatic recount and a Supreme Court case (Bush v. Gore). In the end, Bush won Florida by 0.009 percent of the votes cast in the state, or 537 votes. Had 600 more pro-Gore voters gone to the polls in Florida that November, there may have been an entirely different president from 2000&ndash2008.

More recently, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by securing a close Electoral College win. Although the election did not come down to a handful of votes in one state, Trump&rsquos votes in the Electoral College decided a tight race. Clinton had won the national popular vote by nearly three million votes, but the concentration of Trump voters in key districts in &ldquoswing&rdquo states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan helped seal enough electoral votes to win the presidency.

Your vote may not directly elect the president, but if your vote joins enough others in your voting district or county, your vote undoubtedly matters when it comes to electoral results. Most states have a &ldquowinner take all&rdquo system where the popular vote winner gets the state&rsquos electoral votes. There are also local and state elections to consider. While presidential or other national elections usually get a significant voter turnout, local elections are typically decided by a much smaller group of voters.

A Portland State University study found that fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters were turning out to vote for mayors, council members, and other local offices. Low turnout means that important local issues are determined by a limited group of voters, making a single vote even more statistically meaningful.

How You Can Make Your Voice Heard

If you are not yet 18, or are not a U.S. citizen, you can still participate in the election process. You may not be able to walk into a voting booth, but there are things you can do to get involved:

  • Be informed! Read up on political issues (both local and national) and figure out where you stand.
  • Get out and talk to people. Even if you cannot vote, you can still voice opinions on social media, in your school or local newspaper, or other public forums. You never know who might be listening.
  • Volunteer. If you support a particular candidate, you can work on their campaign by participating in phone banks, doing door-to-door outreach, writing postcards, or volunteering at campaign headquarters. Your work can help get candidates elected, even if you are not able to vote yourself.

Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of American life. Many people in countries around the world do not have the same freedom, nor did many Americans in centuries past. No matter what you believe or whom you support, it is important to exercise your rights.

Typically in the United States, national elections draw large numbers of voters compared to local elections.


5 Most Controversial Presidential Elections in American History

The election in 1800 went to the House of Representatives after a voting mix-up left Thomas Jefferson and his vice presidential running mate Aaron Burr with the same number of electoral votes. It took the House 36 ballots and six days to declare Jefferson the winner.

&ldquoThe presidential election of 1800 was an angry, dirty, crisis-ridden contest that seemed to threaten the nation&rsquos very survival,&rdquo wrote Joanne Freeman, a Yale University history professor, on the site History Now.

Freeman explained that whoever got the most votes was president, and the person with the next highest vote count became vice president.

&ldquoIn 1800, it created a tied election in which both candidates were entitled to claim the presidency, and even the backup procedure of deciding the election in the House almost failed it took six days and thirty-six ballots to break the deadlock,&rdquo she said.

Congress fixed this in 1804 with the 12th Amendment, which required that the president and vice president be voted on separately.

C-Span calls the 1824 election, &ldquoone of the most controversial elections in United States history.&rdquo

Despite losing the popular and electoral votes, John Quincy Adams became president. The election was known to some as the &ldquoCorrupt Bargain&rdquo after Adams named Henry Clay, the speaker of the House of Representatives&mdashand the man who convinced Congress to elect Adams&mdashto serve as secretary of state.

Adams faced Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote and the most electoral votes, but not the majority. So, as in 1800, the House of Representatives had to decide the election. Clay had been among the presidential candidates, but had the fewest electoral votes. Before the House had a chance to consider the matter, though, &ldquoa Philadelphia newspaper published an anonymous letter claiming that Clay would support Adams in return for an appointment as Secretary of State. Clay vigorously denied this,&rdquo said History Central.

According to C-Span, every candidate in the election was a Republican, but after his loss, Jackson formed the Democratic Party.

Before the 2000 election, there was the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, governors of Ohio and New York, respectively. Although both parties accused each other of corruption during the campaign, it was after the votes had been cast that the shenanigans really started.

In his book &ldquoRutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President,&rdquo Ari Hoogenboom writes that Hayes went to bed Election Night believing he had lost. When the votes had been counted, Tilden had won the popular vote and had a 184-165 lead in the electoral vote. However, 20 electoral votes in South Carolina, Oregon, Florida and Louisiana were contested Hayes&rsquo supporters sent messages to Republican leaders in the southern states saying, &ldquoWith your state sure for Hayes, he is elected. Hold your state.&rdquo

Both sides were thought to have engaged in fraud, and the weeks passed without a clear winner.

&ldquoIn Florida, it was impossible to determine who would have won a fair election. Repeaters, stuffed ballot boxes, and Democratic ballots printed with the Republican symbol to trick illiterate voters had all been used. In addition, returns from remote areas had been delayed, to be altered as needed,&rdquo wrote Hoogenboom.

In December, Congress stepped in, forming a 15-member committee to investigate the matter. In February, the commission voted 8-7 along party lines to give Florida&rsquos electoral votes for Hayes it would do the same for Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina, giving Hayes the required 185 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Republicans made backroom deals with Democrats to ensure Hayes&rsquo victory, promising to appoint Democrats to cabinet positions and end reconstruction efforts. On March 2&mdashthree days before inauguration day&mdashHayes was officially declared the winner.

&ldquoOn Monday, March 5, 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in publicly as president of the United States,&rdquo writes Harper&rsquos Weekly. &ldquoAs anticipated, within two months, President Hayes removed the remaining federal troops in the South from political duty (guarding the statehouses), Democratic state administrations gained power, and the era of Reconstruction formally ended.&rdquo

Grover Cleveland, who was running for a second term against Benjamin Harrison, had 93,000 more popular votes after the election in 1888. Though he lost in the Electoral College 233 to 168, according to Harper&rsquos Weekly.

New York and Indiana, which had supported Cleveland in his first election, swung to favor Harrison, who won the election, according to History television channel.


The undying myth of GOP 'obstructionism'

The National Rifle Association’s then-president, Charlton Heston, described the 2000 George W. Bush vs. Al Gore contest as “the most important election since the Civil War.” Rush Limbaugh did him one better: “No question about it. This is the most important election in our history.”

Bill Clinton explained eight years earlier that 1992 was “the most important election in a generation.” Robert C. Byrd in 1988 said it “may be the most important election of [the] century.”

Walter Mondale told a crowd in 1984 that his contest was “the most important election of our lives.” Ronald Reagan concurred: Americans were facing the “most important election in this nation in 50 years.” Nancy Reagan, though, who lived through two world wars and a couple of other major conflicts, thought the 1980 election was the most important election of her life.

As elections go, 1976 was “one of the most vital in the history of America,” explained Gerald Ford. Both Richard Nixon and John Kennedy believed the 1960 contest was the most important. “I believe, my friends, that we are faced with the most important election in the history of the country,” said Harry Truman in 1952. Before the 1888 election between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland, The New York Times claimed, “The Republic is approaching what is to be one of the most important elections in its history.” In 1856, Stephen Douglas said it was the most important election since 1800.

And maybe he was right. But this midterm is certainly not the most important election in history — or your lifetime. Unless, that is, you’re younger than 2.


Watch the video: All Canadian Federal Election Calls from 1988 - 2019 - CBC (July 2022).


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