Commentary: Per the Constitution, voting is our right and responsibility

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It matters that we cast our ballot, whether by absentee, mail-in or in-person balloting, early or on Nov. 3. If we want better government, we can measure our voting by the standards of the Constitution.

The Constitution establishes “citizens” as our only eligible “electorate” entitled to vote in our democracy. No government agency, incumbent, candidate, politician, party, secret clan or foreign accomplice is authorized to “deny or abridge” our citizens’ right to vote.

I love this country, not yet a “perfect union,” and I’m blessed to live here. Since my commitment to Christ as a youth, my mother and Baptist congregations taught me that being a Christian includes responsible citizenship. By the time I started voting at age 21 and pastoring churches, my preaching included regular application of citizenship voting as a practice of Christian faith. I am now 87.

I want to live and serve, making contributions toward the common good and the Christian faith. Applying the biblical principles of my faith to responsible voting is a commitment to this troubled generation.

How does voting contribute to the grand vision stated in our Constitution: “to form a more perfect union?” And what is our part as citizens and believers in Jesus? At least five constitutional standards have increased my sense of hope and direction.

A transcript of the Constitution can be found here.

Five constitutional standards

1. The preamble establishes a living purpose for the Constitution.

The preamble is high ground from which we measure the performance of the citizenry and the nation’s elected officials. “We the People” envisions citizens as the principal constituency of this nation: its founding authority, empowering electorate and intended recipients.

2. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

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Articles I through VII establish the foundation, principles, structure, power, functions, and checks and balances of our representative democracy. The right to vote that is a critical part of our democracy is not determined by elected officials, a majority party, the judicial system or a threat of an uprising. A stable government follows the Constitution, supports the voting of the whole, substantial base, and every vote gets properly counted.

3. Officials are bound to the Constitution by a solemn oath of office.

Every office established by the Constitution is bound by oath to support the Constitution. The president’s oath of office is stated in Article II. Article VI makes reference to the oath others take. This solemn oath retains value when officials practice the five basic essentials of integrity, discipline, performance, accountability and consequences.

A similar oath now is taken by all federal employees other than the president, members of the military and naturalized citizens. The same oath is sworn by justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and can be found here.

The oath usually closes with, “So help me God.” Every Christian who takes the oath has the opportunity to fulfill it with a fresh commitment to the service of Christ.

4. Citizenship and rights are established by the Constitution.

Over time, this principle is making ours “a more perfect Union.” Initially seeming to use “persons,” “people” and “citizens” as synonymous terms, the Constitution’s definition of “citizen” was defined further with the Fourteenth Amendment. The significance of this amendment is clear from a simple reading of it.

The Amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Furthermore: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges [freedoms] and Immunities [protections] of Citizens in the several States. … The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican [democratic] Form of Government, and shall protect each of them.”

5. The Constitution establishes citizens as the “electorate” in federal and state elections.

Four constitutional amendments—the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th—determine the voting rights of U.S. citizens cannot be denied or abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay a poll tax, or age for those 18 and above. The Constitution, as originally ratified, did not establish any such rights.

Citizens of the United States are free to stand with the Constitution and to vote their conscience and convictions.

“May all who come behind us find us faithful.”

As citizens lining up to vote, we are family, friends, neighbors, even strangers. How we cast our vote is a vital expression of our freedom. That we vote is a lifetime contribution to our democracy and posterity.

Let others trust us. Citizens are not frauds; we do not need watchdogs to tend us; we know voting integrity really matters.

One by one and thousands by millions, let’s stand with our Constitution for democracy and freedom. Elections definitely have consequences—at the kitchen table, in finding crisis resolutions, in renewing national character, and in practicing our Christian faith.

May all who come behind us find us faithful,” words taken from a song made famous by Steve Green, has become my motto in recent years.

As a grateful citizen of the United States and follower of Christ, “my all may be very little,” but I stand with the Constitution. May we all honor our constitutional right and, with Christian responsibility, vote for democracy for ourselves and our posterity.

Lloyd Elder, a Baptist minister for almost 70 years, served as a pastor of churches in Texas and Alaska and was the assistant executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, executive vice president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Sunday School Board (now LifeWay), professor at Belmont University, and a publisher. In retirement, he and his wife Sue live in Nashville, Tenn. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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