July 21, 2020

A Brief History of Voting

That Greek civilization created a firm democracy based on equality around 500 BC is equivocal (1). Voters were male landowners, who voted annually for the political leader they wanted to be exiled, which meant that voting was a form of ostracism. If any "candidate" received more than 6,000 votes, the one with the largest number of votes was exiled. If no politician received 6,000 votes, they all remained. Since voters were only male landowners, the number of voters was small. Usually only very unpopular political leaders were ostracized or exiled (2).

Let’s jump forward in voting history to 1776, when our constitution pronounced that “all men are created equal.” As we know, that equality only applied to some. When America was a young country, only white men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. However, it could be argued that one of the strengths of our country is our ability to grow, change, and adapt. There were landmark changes in our voting system. For example, the “Civil War Amendments” following the Civil War. These were the 13th (in 1865, it abolished slavery), 14th (in 1868, it granted citizenship to slaves), and 15th (in 1870, it granted voting rights to slaves) Amendments. While civil rights and voting rights were extended to former slaves, numerous restrictions kept many blacks from voting until the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Watch the film “The 13th”, directed by Ava DuVernay, to learn why large numbers of black people are still prevented from voting, even today). The 17th (1913) Amendment made U.S. Senators directly elected by popular vote rather than appointed. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

Some scholars have argued that in our contemporary world “voting is rivalled only by the market as a means of reaching collective decisions from individual choices” (3). That idea may reveal a major flaw in the struggle between American capitalism and American democracy. At the very least, it reveals an American bias vis-à-vis voting practices.

We decided to look further than our own ideas on voting and ask our own Bob Bragar (4), who is very involved in Democrat Abroad’s get out the vote (GOTV) activities about his ideas and experiences in this arena. One thing is clear for Bob – the role of the State is “to create a level playing field for voters.” As an American living abroad, Bob was very inspired when he came to Europe and first registered with DA for his absentee ballot. He said the experience speaking with the DA representative was “life changing.” Bob believes that the “way to get people to vote is to overcome cynicism.” He said, “Our votes do matter and it is the single most important right we can exercise as American citizens.” We need to know that “we do make a difference by voting.” He said we should “get friends and family to vote – make a voting party out of our voting.” He said “voting connects me to my Americanness. It is not materialist and racist. Rather it is deeply American.” Bob reminds us as those living abroad that “we are voting as citizens of our state - at least that is the deal since 1788 (i.e., the first quadrennial US election). You’re voting so your state will cast its electoral ballot in a decent way.” Bob continues, “Most states have a winner takes all in the electoral college and it flies against my sense of fairness. The single biggest problem we have is that winner takes all is the American way – alas…”

We agree with Bob, and as members of the LGBTQ+ Global Caucus, we remind our caucus members and all members of DA to make sure you request and return your ballot in time in this critical election year. Go to votefromabroad.org to request your absentee ballot now. If you want to get more involved to get out the vote, you can join the phonebanking team to contact DA members and support them in requesting and returning their absentee ballot.

Remember as Bob said, “voting is the single most important right we can exercise as American citizens.”



1. Robinson, E.W., 2011. Democracy beyond Athens: popular government in the Greek classical age. Cambridge University Press.
2. Cartledge, Paul, 2006. “Ostracism: selection and de-selection in ancient Greece” posted 20 July 2006, See: http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/ostracism-selection-and-de-selection-in-ancient-greece 
3. Campbell, A., Converse, P.E., Miller, W.E. and Stokes, D.E., 1980. The American voter. University of Chicago Press. p. 3.
4. Bob Bragar is a long-time member of DA. He was a member of the DNC from 2012-2016; an elected delegate for Barack Obama at the conventions in 2007 and 2011, and superdelegate for Hillary Clinton (2015). He was Chair of DA Netherlands from 2007 until 2011, and also served as treasurer. He is currently legal counsel of DANL.