treble hook. | Historical Perspectives on the Significance of Voting

October 17, 2022

Dr. Rich Lofthus, Professor of History

Throughout most of human history, the few have governed over the many. In the ancient world, political power was linked to divinity in order to justify the notion that a few had the authority to rule over the bulk of society. Ancient governments were often theocratic—governments that claimed to have the power to integrate the wider society with the deity or deities found in their various pantheons. This approach to government carried over into the modern world and we can find the notion of the “divine right of kings” used to legitimize hereditary monarchies in countries such as France or Russia. The coverage devoted to the recent death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth reminds us that even in the modern world, many people are fascinated with monarchy.

But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a new way of thinking about politics emerged as political philosophers such as John Locke claimed that popular sovereignty was the only legitimate foundation for a society formed around his notions of the social contract. Locke was exploring the political ramifications of a wider movement we have come to know as the Enlightenment, which included Thomas Jefferson’s claim that “all men are created equal” and Montesquieu’s observation that governments must feature a separation of powers. Thomas Paine denounced monarchy as an unfit form of government, and Jefferson told us that “the mass of mankind was not born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.” The United States was the first republic to be founded on these Enlightenment principles. George Washington observed that “The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Suspicion,” he wrote, “but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period.” In the aftermath of the American Revolution, Washington referred to Americans as “actors on a most conspicuous theater.”

The right to vote in free and fair elections is at the bedrock of our quest to form “a more perfect union”, and we need to remind ourselves that we can have full confidence in our system—it is the best in the world. This is rare, even in the modern world. Most recently, sham elections in Russian occupied territories of Ukraine produced results generated at gun point, culminating in a farcical Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine. We must remind ourselves that previous generations struggled to extend the right to vote to us, and as “actors on a most conspicuous theater” we have a solemn responsibility to exercise that right and to accept the results.


registering to vote in south dakota:

Print the Voter Registration Form, fill-out the form, sign it and then submit it to your County Auditor. Your Voter Registration form with an original signature must be received by the auditor 15 days before any election if you wish to vote in that election. The form needs to be filled out and received no later than Oct. 24th at 5:00PM. South Dakota law does not allow you to submit your voter registration form via fax or email.


Yankton County Auditor
Patti Hojem
321 W. 3rd St., Ste 100
Yankton, SD 57078-4396




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