Even worse is having to go back to 1896 to find a rate significantly higher (79 percent).
The oft-repeated reason for the low rate is that potential voters don’t think their vote will matter.
By combining Veterans Day and Election Day into one national holiday we, as a nation, can provide eligible voters with a whole new reason to vote — to honor the veterans who have given so much to protect this right.
One vote may not change an election, but the individual act of voting can become a message sent to all veterans on Veterans Day that we know what they have done for us. In 2014, Election Day did fall on Veterans Day. Now we need to make that permanent.
A group of students has become interested in pursuing this effort, and you will be able to follow their work on www.VetDayVoteDay.org
The most moving moment on a trip to Europe years ago was not seeing the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower or a masterpiece in the Louvre; it was a visit in Italy to a cemetery dedicated solely to American soldiers. There were thousands of simple white tombstones with the names of our fallen soldiers. Walking among them, it was impossible not to cry. So many young Americans whose lives lasted only 18, 19 or 20 years, and who died so far away from their homes.
At a World Economic Forum in 2003, Colin Powell was challenged about American “empire building.” His answer silenced the room: “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
We entered World War I with Woodrow Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy.” Americans responded, and many — too many — did not return. We must continue to honor their sacrifice by taking the one action that defines a democracy: voting.
There is nothing that connects a Tuesday in November — typically Election Day — to anything meaningful in our national culture. The date was set not by the Constitution, but by Congress in the 1880s. In those days, voting could be a two-day commitment for farmers who had to travel to the county seat — often a day’s journey by wagon. So elections had to be held after the harvest. And they couldn’t happen on the Sabbath. So, allowing Monday for travel, voting could be done on Tuesday, with time left over to buy supplies and head back to the farm.
It made sense then, but such thinking is irrelevant today.
If we make a change by linking Election Day and Veterans Day, your candidate still may not win. Your candidate may not even have a remote chance to win. But every vote would become a continuing statement saying that all of those lives marked by white tombstones were not lost in vain. All those veterans, who served in our armed forces and protected our nation, would be further honored and valued.
They fought for you. They served for you. Honor them. Vote. It is so simple and so obvious and so easy to achieve. We can do this.
About the writer: Tom Taft is the chief operating officer at Germantown Academy, which is located in suburban Philadelphia and is the oldest nonsectarian day school in the U.S. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS).