The general election is a few short weeks away. Discussions and debates about the candidates at the local, state, and national level have been occurring for months now as voters learn about the issues and decide who to support.

Like many people, I believe the most important part of these elections is getting people to register and cast their ballot.

Girl Scouts of the Northern New Jersey is partnering with the YWCA Northern New Jersey on the 21-day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge. The challenge is designed to create dedicated time and space to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership.

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The Voting Rights Act, suffrage, and its history has been one topic of exploration for participants. Historically, obtaining the right to vote was a long, hard battle for people of color and women. African American men were granted the right to vote in 1869, but some states passed grandfather clauses that prohibited slaves and their descendants from voting. Literacy tests and poll taxes were other factors that prohibited African American voters from being allowed to exercise their rights to vote.

In 1920, only a hundred years ago, women were granted the right to vote. Again, that didn’t mean all women had easy access to vote as barriers were imposed in many places, especially for women of color.  Native Americans did not have the right to vote until 1948 and many Asian Americans did not have voting rights until 1952. And it wasn’t until 1971 that the voting age was lowered from 21 years old to 18 years old.

The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have in the United States. Voting gives people the voice they need on issues that are important to families, future generations, and the community. Voting is our responsibility to choose those individuals who will represent the American people and our concerns.

There are people who feel that their vote does not count but it absolutely does. If you don’t vote, you are not using the voice and opportunity that many generations of people fought for so you can enjoy your voting rights today. You are also depriving yourself of the chance to make a difference.

Voting send a message on what is important to you, your family, and the community. Unless you exercise your right to vote, your voice will not be heard when it matters the most.