By Mike RuffinWhenever an election was approaching, my father, the late great Champ Ruffin, would tell me, ‘If you don’t exercise your right to vote, they’ll take it away someday.’ He started telling me that long before I became eligible to vote in 1976.I figured he was exaggerating to make his point, which was that I should vote. It turns out he wasn’t.In January of this year, the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled in an Ohio case that states can remove voters from their voter registrations list if they haven’t recently voted. Georgia has such a ‘use it or lose it’ law. According to the organization Let America Vote, Georgia has removed over 850,000 eligible voters from its rolls between 2013 and 2017. In Georgia, voters who don’t vote for three years receive a letter from the state. If they don’t respond to it, they’re assigned ‘inactive’ status. They can still vote under that status. But if they fail to vote in two consecutive federal election cycles, they’re removed from the voter roll. This year’s general election occurs on November 6. The deadline to register for this election is October 9. We should all make sure we’re registered to vote, which is easy to do. There are several ways to check to see if you are registered. You can go the Georgia Secretary of State’s website at https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/. You can also go to vote.org or rockthevote.org.I have tried all three websites to check my status. They are all easy to use.If you find that you aren’t registered, or if you don’t need to check your status because you know you’ve never registered, you need to get registered, which is also easy to do.You can register to vote at the Secretary of State website mentioned above.You can also register in person. To do so, go to the County Board of Elections office. In Lamar County, the office is at 408 Thomaston Street, Suite D. In Pike County, it’s at 79 Jackson Street in Zebulon.Sometimes folks go to vote and are told they aren’t on the list of registered voters. What should you do then? The following information comes from rockthevote.org:First, make sure you are at the right polling place. If you are at the wrong polling place they will not have your name on the list of voters. If you are at the correct location and are not on the list, you can still cast a ballot. Ask the poll worker for a provisional ballot. After the polls close on Election Day the state will check on the status of your voter registration and if there was a mistake made. The state must notify you as to whether your ballot was counted. If you have a problem voting and think your rights have been denied, call (866) OUR-VOTE [(866)-687-8683]. There will be lawyers there to help.Georgia requires that you have an acceptable photo ID to vote. You can learn about them at the Secretary of State’s website. I have my opinions about how you should vote, but this column isn’t about that. It is rather about the fact that you should vote. It is our privilege and responsibility. As my father said, if we don’t use our right to vote, they just may take it away some day. Let’s show them how important it is to us. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Then vote this November – and in every election from now on.Mike Ruffin lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville. He is the Connections Curriculum Editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon. His latest book, Fifty-Seven: A Memoir of Death and Life, is available through online booksellers.
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