Today (Aug. 7th) is Election Day and while some participated in early voting, the majority of voters will not participate in the election at all. Voting is a right that was fought on many fronts by many people over many years. However, so few of us utilize this right that eluded us for so many years.
History has shown that the disenfranchisement took on many forms. The right to vote has been based on race, national origin, sex, property ownership, citizenship, religion, taxes, and income. Overall the individual states were allowed to determine who received voting rights without any federal involvement. So only approximately 6 percent of the population held the right based on the eligibility requirements.
Caucasian males excluded from voting
When the U.S. Constitution was initially drafted, it did not address or define who could vote and who could not. As difficult as it may seem to believe, a faction of white men were excluded from voting rights. In 1776, the right to vote was restricted for the most part to Protestant Caucasian property owners over the age of 21. The land ownership requirement was estimated to be approximately 50 acres, which certainly excluded a tremendous amount of people, even a number of white males.
In 1790, a Naturalization Law was passed which effectively determined that only “free” white immigrants could become naturalized citizens. In 1848, women joined with Frederick Douglas on the journey toward universal voting laws. Also in 1848, Mexican Americans were given citizenship, but were still disenfranchised as to voting due to the English language requirements and intimidation tactics. It took until 1856 for all states to remove property ownership as a requirement to vote.
In 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified and granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, which included former slaves. This Amendment went on to forbid any state from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
But the states still had enforcement power of voting regulations, which were used as deterrents. The intimidation tactics used to restrict the actual ability of African Americans to register to vote included voting taxes, literacy tests, religion, and violence.
In 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed, which guarantees the right to vote in federal elections and cannot be denied based on the failure to pay taxes. This removed one intimidation tactic.
Voting Rights Act
The grassroots movement for voting forced a change in the law via the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states from the use of the intimidation tactics and provided a mechanism for the federal government to enforce the law.
A sniper shot James Meredith while marching for voter registration between Mississippi and Tennessee. Over 4,000 African-American voters registered the next day. After healing, Meredith rejoined Martin Luther King Jr. in the march.
The ladies make their move
Both Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth attempted to vote in 1872. Anthony, in New York, was arrested and Truth, in Michigan, was turned away. Wyoming was admitted as a state and became the first state to allow women the right to vote in its constitution in 1890. From New York to Washington, D.C., women started to march and demand the right to vote in 1912. Almost a decade later, women received the right to vote through the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Although Native Americans were here in America when the settlers arrived, according to the Supreme Court in 1876, indigenous people were not included under the 14th Amendment and therefore could not vote. Under the Dawes Act of 1887, citizenship would be granted to Native Americans if they gave up their tribal affiliations. In 1890, the Indian Naturalization Act granted citizenship to Native Americans if their applications were approved, as in the case of immigrant naturalization. So, in sum, folks that were already here needed to apply to be accepted here. However, if Native Americans served in the military during World War I, they were granted citizenship. Through the Indian Citizenship Act, Native Americans were given the right to vote. Yet they were still subjected to the same acts of intimidation.
In 1922, the Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese origin could not become naturalized citizens. In 1923, the same court placed Asian Indians in the same category and those of Japanese origin. Almost 30 years later, the McCarran-Walter Act granted all folks of Asian descent the right to become citizens.
Voting age lowered to 18
As a result of the Vietnam War protests, the voting age was lowered to 18 via the 26th Amendment in 1971. Protesters felt if soldiers were old enough to fight they were old enough to vote.
Much blood has been shed to obtain and maintain the right to vote. If voting rights weren’t important and valuable, then why would the “powers-that-be” fight to prohibit so many from voting?
In sum, regardless of race, creed or ethnic origin, don’t take your right to vote for granted, because all of our ancestors would be rolling over in their graves. Show up at the polls and take someone with you.