All eyes are on the United States as we approach the next presidential election on Nov. 3. As we approach the election, now may be a good time to review the history of voting in this country. Initial voting rights in 1776 meant that only landowning men could vote. Since White men were the primary landowners, this meant that White men were the primary voters during that time.
In 1846, all White men were allowed to vote, regardless of whether they owned land. In 1868, the 14th Amendment granted African Americans citizenship, but not the right to vote. In 1870, the 15th Amendment prevented Federal and State governments from denying citizens the right to vote based on race. However, Jim Crow laws and the threat and realities of violence still prevented African Americans from voting. In 1890, the state of Wyoming was the first state to allow women the right to vote. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act removed all discriminatory practices designed to prevent people of color from voting.
It should be noted that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was needed, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The Civil Rights Act was designed to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It included provisions for voting, school desegregation, public places, and employment, yet somehow the Voting Rights Act was still needed.
The Voting Rights Act required that before local jurisdictions could make changes to voting procedures, such as voter identification laws, drawing new district maps, and restricting early voting, federal approval would be needed. The Voting Rights Act was particularly significant to Southern states with a history of discriminatory practices when it came to African Americans and voting.
Many thought that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the threat to voter suppression was well on its way to ending. However, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain portions of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional, allowing states to change voter laws without prior federal approval. Democrats argued that this would enable states, particularly some Southern states, to revert to the past voter suppression tactics. Although Democratic-led Congress has proposed legislation to bolster the Voting Rights Act once again, it has predictably stalled in the Republican-led senate.
So, as we approach what many consider to be the most important Presidential election of our lives, the guaranteed right of all Americans to exercise their right to vote remains as controversial as ever. Even now, the right to vote by mail is under siege. Despite these challenges, one thing is clear, every vote counts, and elections on all levels have significant long-lasting effects and consequences on everyone. Voting is indeed one of the most significant individual powers that we all possess. Let’s utilize this power and not waste this opportunity.