If you think waiting in line to vote is annoying, you should have seen what life was like under a king

A very brief and irreverent look at the history of voting from prehistoric times until today.

DOTHAN, AL, November 6, 2012 — There has been a lot of concern recently about the actual mechanics of voting and how we monitor the voting process in America. Some rural areas still have systems where you put your mark on a slip of paper, then give it to an official who determines for you what box to put it in for counting later.

In more sophisticated urban areas the process is similar but instead of paper, voters use a computer or electronic machine that automatically determines for you where to put your vote for counting later. However, in the New York area where many towns are still without electricity due to hurricane Sandy, voting may have to be done with a show of hands or even telepathy.

While standing in line to vote this morning I overheard a very young couple discussing how people must have voted in ancient Egypt. They were quite certain that the pharaoh was duly elected somehow, and they quickly moved on to discuss ancient Egypt’s problem with immigrants from Judah and how public protests forced the pharaoh to end the war with the Hittites. I listened quietly and did not try to correct them. I make it a firm point never to interfere with the critical thinking skills of modern university graduates, since that could easily damage to their self-esteem.

As I continued to wait my turn I remembered a little-known fact that voting for leaders goes all the way back to caveman times. Unlike today, it was a very simple and straightforward process. For example, Og would announce his candidacy by bashing Zurg in the head with a club and the clan would vote approval by going “ooh aah” and bowing down.

The system was very efficient and formed the basis for modern American politics, especially in some major cities like Chicago.

The Athenians of ancient Greece were the first to introduce democracy and actual voting to western civilization. Greeks were very taken with deep philosophical topics and would spend weeks and months debating morality, man’s interaction with the gods and how to expand overseas trade by conquering the Trojans. At first the debates would draw large crowds, but eventually many citizens got tired and went home, leaving just a handful of wealthy landowners to decide on candidates with a show of hands. There were strict voting rules however. Only one arm was allowed to be held up, and no political tattoos were allowed within 100 feet of the voting areas.

America is not a pure democracy like Greece was. It is a republic very similar to ancient Rome. The Romans took all the corruption from the Greek system and refined it to a fine art. Rome itself was divided into 35 states or tribes, red and blue, and each tribe got one vote in the national elections. That meant that as soon as a candidate got 18 votes he won and the other 17 tribes didn’t even have to bother voting.

This evolved into our modern electoral college, in which each state gets a number of representative votes based on local elections, population and whether or not Jupiter is aligned with Mars. Take that number, divide by 13 (for the original colonies), add six, determine how many bubbles are on a head of beer (American only, no imports) and subtract the number 10.

Voting in the Roman senate was an open affair and supporters would simply stand close to their candidate and shout “Votim Migae Ina!” In general this system worked well, but recounts were difficult and occasionally opponents could slip into a group and start shouting “Votim Outus!” to drown out a candidate’s supporters.

Something similar happened to Julius Caesar, who as everyone knows was the victim of a sharp-edged attack by opponents determined to get their points across. Right after his death the voting rules were tightened and politicians started using public relations experts to help write speeches. The first evidence of that was when Mark Antony hired a PR agent to rewrite his speech about Caesar that originally started with the line, “Hey, all you guys come on over here I gotta to tell you something.”  

Voting went out of fashion during the dark ages and didn’t return again until June 15, 1215, when King John of England signed the Magna Carta, which is Latin for “Really big piece of paper with tiny little handwriting.” This document limited powers of the king and gave more rights to the barons and nobles. Common people were still pretty much considered dirt, but the long-term effect of this document was to ultimately influence some pushy colonists in the Americas to start a new nation where everyone had the right to vote. Well, everyone except for women, people of color and anyone who didn’t own land, but those were minor details that were eventually worked out a few hundred years later.

Today the nation we proudly call America has become so enlightened and progressive that even dead people and illegal aliens can vote in some areas, truly a remarkable change from a system based on the divine right of kings a mere 800 years ago.

All joking aside, whether you vote with slips of paper, by raising your hand or by pressing “enter” on a computer screen, it’s important to remember all the people who came before you and the things they had to endure to have their voices heard. Your right to vote is the culmination of centuries of sacrifice, endurance and determination to earn equality, and the only way to protect that right is to get out and vote regardless of candidate or issue.

So, it’s about time to stop reading this and get to the polls before they close!


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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

 

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