Exercise Your Hard Won Right as an American – Vote!
Whether we like to admit it, suppressing certain types of voters has been part of American history. People, especially black, brown, females, immigrants, the young, and disabled persons, have fought hard against these barriers. Some have even lost their lives in this fight! Therefore, please exercise your right to vote as an American! As Nike says, “Just Do It!” Please.
Voter Suppression Has Been Around a Long Time
Voter suppression is hardly a 21st-century invention. For many years, those groups entrenched in power have long tried to keep the vote out of the hands of the less powerful. That seems to be the American way.
Even today, we see efforts to restrict voting rights of certain people via purging voter rolls, restricting registration, cutting voting time, and imposing stricter voter ID laws. As of March 2021, Georgia, even made it illegal to hand out water to voters waiting in long lines. (Georgia, ring a bell for anyone?) I am guessing that schools today do not cover this topic well in history class or in history books. I do not remember learning about voter suppression in my high school history class.
Lessons in History: The Very First Presidential Election
Despite their beliefs in democracy, the founders of America endorsed severe limits on voting. According to the Carnegie Corporation (2019), the U.S. Constitution originally left it to states to determine who was qualified to vote. For decades, state legislatures generally restricted voting to white males who owned property. Some states also employed religious tests to ensure that only Christian men could vote.
The election of 1788 to 1789 was the first presidential election. George Washington was elected President. John Adams was elected Vice President. Back then, voting was hindered by poor communications, weak infrastructure, and the work demands imposed by farming. As a result, in 1788, voter turnout was less than 1.8% of the adult population.
History of the 1800’s
According the Carnegie Corporation (2019), state legislatures began to limit the property requirement for voting in the 1800’s. Later, during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1869. This amendment ensured that people could not be denied the right to vote because of their race.
In 1870, a majority of states ratified the amendment. However, not all states ratified the amendment. Twenty nine states out of 37, one more than the required 28 ratifications needed, voted to accept the amendment.
Southern States Still a Problem
Not only were the southern states bitter about losing the Civil War, they also did not want Blacks to vote. In the decades that followed the ratification of the 15th Amendment, many states, particularly in the South, used a number of tactics to keep certain voters away from the polls including poll taxes and literacy tests. Why? To deliberately reduce voting among poor whites, Black men, and immigrants. Women of all races were not permitted to vote yet.
History of the 1900’s
In the early 1900’s, women were only able to vote in a handful of states. After decades of organizing and activism, women won the right to vote nationwide with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
History of the 1960’s – The Southern States Still a Problem
The 24th amendment was approved by Congress in 1962 and ratified by the states two years later. I was 5 years old at the time. This amendment forbade federal and state governments from imposing taxes on voters during federal elections. However, five states (mostly in the south) continued to enforce the payment of poll taxes for state elections until the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that such taxes were unconstitutional (see below).
Life as a Black American in 1960 was grim. A common saying back then among Blacks was: “If you’re white, you’re right. If you’re brown stick around. If you are black, stay back.” The average life-span of Blacks was seven years less than Whites. Their children had only half the chance of completing high school, only a third the chance of completing college, and a third the chance of entering a profession when they grew up compared to Whites. On average, Blacks earned half as much as Whites and were twice as likely to be unemployed. Fair?
Less than a quarter of the South’s black population of voting age could vote. In certain Southern counties, blacks could not vote at all, serve on grand juries and trial juries, or go to all-white beaches, restaurants, and hotels.
The North was not a safe haven either. In the North, Blacks suffered humiliation, insults, embarrassment, and discrimination. Many neighborhoods, businesses, and unions almost totally excluded Blacks.
Just as Black unemployment had increased in the South with the mechanization of cotton production, Black unemployment in Northern cities soared as labor-saving technology eliminated many semiskilled and unskilled jobs that historically had provided many Blacks with work. Black families experienced severe strain; the proportion of black families headed by women jumped from 8% in 1950 to 21% in 1960.
The Struggle for Equal Rights Came to a Head
The struggle for equal voting rights came to a head in the 1960’s when certain southern states doubled down on policies—such as literacy tests, poll taxes, English-language requirements, and more—aimed at suppressing the vote among people of color, immigrants and low-income populations.
In March 1965, activists in favor of equal rights organized protest marches from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery Alabama to spotlight the issue of black voting rights. People in the first march were brutally attacked by police and others on a day that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” As a child, I remember watching Walter Cronkite and those news videos on our black and white TV. I credit my parents for letting me watch that. After a second march was cut short, a throng of thousands made the journey to Montgomery, Alabama on March 24 and drew nationwide attention to the issue.
It was not until 1966 (I was only seven years old) that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that poll taxes were unconstitutional in any U.S. election.
1965: The Voting Rights Act Passes in Congress
Inspired by the grass roots movement of voting rights marches in Alabama in spring 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. The vote was decisive and bipartisan: 79-18 in the Senate and 328-74 in the House.
In addition to banning many of the policies and practices that states had been using to limit voting among Blacks and other targeted groups, the Voting Rights Act required states and local jurisdictions with a historical pattern of suppressing voting rights based on race to submit changes in their election laws to the U.S. Justice Department for approval … ahead of time. This method of pre-approval was very effective until 2013. See below.
The 26th Amendment of 1971 Allowed Young People to Vote
For much of the nation’s history, states generally restricted voting to people age 21 and older. However, during the 1960s, student activism and the war in Vietnam, which was fought largely by young, 18-and-over draftees proved effective motivators. The 26th amendment prohibited states and the federal government from using age as a reason to deny the vote to anyone 18 years of age and over.
Many Laws Passed Since 1971
There have been many laws passed since 1971. Bipartisan support has helped improve voter access for the elderly and those with disabilities; allowed Americans to register to vote when they applied for their driver’s licenses and permitted mail-in registration; streamlined election procedures across the nation by creating statewide voter registration lists, replaced outdated equipment, and provided provisional ballots to ensure that registered voters were not turned away if not on the statewide list.
June 2013: All Progress Stopped with the U.S. Supreme Court
All of that bipartisan progress came to a screeching halt in June 2013. It its ruling in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Because of the Court’s decision, states and localities with a history of suppressing voting rights no longer were required to submit changes in their election laws to the U.S. Justice Department for review ahead of time.
The 5-4 decision ruled unconstitutional a section of the landmark 1965 law that was key to protecting voters in states and localities with a history of race-based voter suppression. In her dissent in the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously stated, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Republicans and Democrats Do Not Agree on Voter Rights
Today, voter suppression is active again. Hundreds of pieces of legislation have been put forward across the country by Republicans. This constitutes the most coordinated, organized and determined Republican push on any political issue in recent memory.
Behind all of it is aggressive voter suppression. Targeting people of color, urbanites, immigrants, low-income communities and other groups whose full participation in elections is seen by Republicans as a threat.
According to the Pew Research Center (2021), there are substantial, and in some cases, growing – partisan divisions over many of these policies, largely because of changes in opinions among Republicans.
For example, many Republicans believe that there was a tremendous amount of voter fraud in the U.S. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history.”
Even though there is no evidence of voter fraud in any state, Donald Trump and the majority Republicans (including the newly elected Speaker of the House), continue to spout mis/disinformation to the American public and say that the election was stolen. Someone is lying! I will let you decide who.
The various claims of evidence alleging a stolen 2020 election have been exhaustively investigated and litigated. Judges heard claims of illegal voting and found that these claims were baseless and without merit.
Here is the truth: Donald Trump and his followers lost over 60 court cases where judges, including judges appointed by President Trump and other Republican presidents, looked at the evidence and said there is not widespread fraud.
Here is another example of how Republicans have changed their views: The share of Republicans who say any voter should be allowed to vote early or absentee without a documented reason has fallen 19% (from 57% to 38%). Likewise, 68% of Republicans now favor removing people from voting registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration, compared with just 27% of Democrats.
Republicans are also far less likely than Democrats to say everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote (28% of Republicans vs. 85% Democrats). Let me ask you, why would we want to make it more difficult to vote?
Make Your Voice and Vote Heard. Vote!
As the old saying goes, “Politicians listen to two things: money and votes.” If you do not vote, you will not have a say in how our country is run. Each and every vote counts! Your voice counts. Please get out and vote. Don’t let anyone suppress your vote!
Increasing the number of people that vote in each election means better representation, more funding to our communities, and a better quality of life. If we work together as a community and increase voter turnout, then our state and national legislators will listen to our needs.
Many things are affected by our vote: who is in power, public health budgets, the quality of education received by our children and grandchildren, transportation, healthcare, the safety of our environment, the safety of the air we breathe and the water we drink, immigration, infrastructure, the economy, and our veterans. Vote!
The 1795 Group Can Help
We care a lot about the world that we will leave for those who will follow in our footsteps. We want this little blue planet to be a better place for all who live on it.
That’s why we do what we do. We believe in being part of solutions. Let’s work together.
Perhaps you would like a guest speaker or a presentation on this topic. Perhaps you would like to have your students, learners, or employees enjoy an in-person or virtual professional development workshop in this topical area. Perhaps you need a course to be written for your learners. Whatever your need, the 1795 Group can help. Call us and let’s brainstorm ways to work together.
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