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(John Schulte, Dreamstime)

The right to vote has a complicated history in the United States. Initially, only white men who were property owners were allowed to cast a ballot. Eventually, other groups such as men of color and women were added to the list. These days, any American citizen who is 18 and older can vote.

It’s a privilege to vote and some may argue that as American citizens it is our duty to vote. Despite the prestige centered on voting, in recent years, voter turnout rates have continued to plummet.

This is a big election year, and not just on a national scale. In Milwaukee, residents will be voting for County Executive, a Justice for the Supreme Court, a Circuit Court Judge (Branch 5), the Mayor of Milwaukee and more.

The choices made during next week’s election will directly affect Milwaukee and Wisconsin in the years to come. And yet, history shows that registered voters hardly make an effort to appear at the polls.

Four years ago, in 2016, the ballot included voting for County Executive, Justice of the Supreme Court, Mayor of Milwaukee and several others. Although the names will be different, it’s the same categories that will be present on the ballot next week.

According to the Election Commission for the Milwaukee County, 538,279 people were registered to vote and of that, 113,205 cast a ballot. In other words, only 21% of eligible voters actually cast a vote during the Spring Primary elections.

Before that, in 2012, the Election Commission for the City of Milwaukee reported that at the time of the Spring Primary Election, 296,164 residents had registered to vote in the City of Milwaukee. However, only 35,714 ballots were cast.

In 2018, during the Spring Primary Election, residents throughout the county voted for a Supreme Court Justice and in some cases an alderperson or school board member depending on the district. In that case, only 82,303 ballots were cast out of the total of 537,398 voters registered. That was according to the unofficial results of Milwaukee County’s Election commission.

While the aforementioned data includes information from the city and the county as well as results from different races, it illustrates the ongoing trend. Despite being registered to vote, people aren’t actually voting.

These days, voting has become easier than ever. In cities like Milwaukee, registered voters have the option of absentee voting and early voting. Though to be fair, the line tends to move pretty quickly if voters have to visit the polls the day of. Voters can also register the day of in Wisconsin, unlike in other states.

Websites such as My Vote Wisconsin (https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/) also make it possible for voters to see an example of the ballot in their district, check if they’re registered and the location of their polling station. Furthermore, residents can apply for a free temporary photo ID if they need one to vote.

In other words, there’s no excuse to not vote.

It’s two months into 2020 and into a new decade. It could be a decade of great change and progress, if voters let it. So do the right thing and vote, because it’s high time that voter turnout takes a turn for the better.

The Spring Primary Election will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo ID is required.

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