Leon Bibb comments on importance of voting and why he never missed an election

CLEVELAND - Lines of people waited for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to open its doors. When the big doors opened on Tuesday, not only did the first voters rush through for the fist day of early voting in Ohio, but freedom also walked through the door.

At the end of the business day, about 1,800 people had voted early in the November 2012 election. Their votes will be counted along with all the votes cast on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"There was an air of excitement," said a woman from the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. "I felt invigorated by casting my ballot although I have voted in every election since turning of voting age."

The whole scene prompted reflections on the importance of the vote. It is the people who are in charge in America. Elected officials don't get their offices without the votes of the people they represent. 

My grandparents lived in the racially-segregated society of the American South. They never voted because they did not live long enough to see the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guarantees the vote to all citizens. Though my grandparents were citizens and of voting age, they were denied the vote because they were black. 

My father and mother often spoke of their parents when they voted. During my elementary school years in Cleveland, my parents often took me to the polls with them. I watched them vote as they talked about the importance. They mentioned the illegal and immoral segregated system that held my grandparents down.

"You must always think of them and the millions of other people who were denied the right to vote when you cast your ballot," they advised my youthful years. Later, when I became of voting age and still today, I reflect on my grandparents who were Americans, but who were denied the vote simply because of their race. 

As I mark my ballots, I whisper words to myself: "I think of those who could not vote and I thank those who helped change the system so that my voice is now heard."

I thought of all this today as I watched people going into the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to cast their ballots early this voting season. Many had their young children in hand. The children are learning valuable lessons simply by being with their parents as they exercise their Constitutional rights.

I have not missed an election since I turned of voting age. Even while serving in the U.S. Army in the jungles of Vietnam during the war, I voted. The absentee ballots came to me in Vietnam, and I studied them carefully and placed my marks for the candidates and the issues that faced me. 

All of this is about democracy. It is a wonderful word that comes from the Greek language. Demos means "the people."  Kratein means "to rule."

The United States of America is a nation where, indeed, the people rule. The people are in charge because they have the vote and the freedom to cast their ballots the way each sees fit.

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