You can’t turn on the TV or check your mail without getting some sort of campaign announcement about the upcoming election. All the commercials and fliers can be a bit annoying, but that shouldn’t distract us from how lucky we all are to have the right to vote in the United States today. That isn’t the case around the world and just a short time ago, that wasn’t true for every citizen here.
A brief history of the right to vote in the United States:
- September 17, 1787. The Constitution of the United States of America was ratified. States retained full control of their electoral franchise. The Constitution prescribed no requirement for voters—merely linking the requirement for voters for the members of the House with those required for voting for members of the most numerous branch of the state legislature (Article I, section 2, paragraph i).
- The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1868 and 1870, made illegal all attempts to prevent individuals from exercising their voting rights on the basis of race. However, these amendments were in practice ineffective because the people who controlled the local political systems created impediments such as literacy tests, residency requirements, and poll taxes to block citizens’ from voting.
- On June 4, 1919, forty-one years after its initial introduction, the United States Congress voted approval on the Nineteenth Amendment: legalizing suffrage for women in the United States. During the following fourteen months, thirty-six state legislatures voted in favor of the amendment, leading to its acceptance on August 18, 1920.
- The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted in July, 1964. This amendment sought to protect the right of U.S. citizens to vote by banning any poll or other voting tax.
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson in August, 1965. The act overcame some of the weaknesses in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It authorized federal voting examiners to register voters for federal and state elections, suspended literacy tests, banned the use of poll taxes, and provided limited federal approval of new state registration laws and voting statutes. Penalties were also established for those who sought to deny any person the right to vote.
One final reminder that every vote counts: During the 2000 presidential election, according to Zelden, “between the vice president, Albert Gore, Jr., and the Texas governor, George W. Bush, the two were separated by only some 200 votes—out of more than five million cast—in Florida, which held the decisive electoral college votes needed by each candidate to win the presidency. Al Gore had challenged the accuracy of the Florida vote totals, calling for selective hand recounts. George W. Bush defended these totals and challenged the validity of recounting votes by hand. Ultimately, the issues raised by the Florida recounts landed in the Supreme Court, which ruled by a 5-4 vote that Florida’s methods of recounting votes were so disorganized and diverse from county to county that they amounted to an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clauses of the Constitution and of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, the ruling held that as the time allowed for counting votes had expired, the Florida recounts were finished and the candidate ahead at that time, George W. Bush, was the winner of the Florida vote—and hence became the forty-third president of the United States.” (2008).
You can cast your vote in the general election on November 6th. In addition to the Presidential election, this is also your chance to vote on many local and state politicians and on amendments or additions to local and state laws. For more information on voting in your area, visit http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Voting.shtml.
Allison, C. N. (1999). “Voting Rights Legislation.” The Sixties in America. Ed. Carl Singleton. 3 vols. Salem Press. Salem History Web.
Constitution. (2010). In Encyclopedia of American Studies. Retrieved from http://www.lirn.net/services/proxy?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.credoreference.com/entry/jhueas/constitution
Kanjirathinkal, M. J. (1999). “Civil Rights Act of 1960.” The Sixties in America. Salem Press. Salem History Web.
Maguire, E. J. (2006). “U.S. Constitution Is Adopted.” Great Events from History: The Eighteenth Century. Salem Press. Salem History Web.
Pallante, M. (2008). “Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Document Analysis.” Milestone Documents in American History. Schlager Group. Salem History Web.
Zelden, C. L. (2008). “Bush v. Gore: Document Analysis.” Milestone Documents in American History. Schlager Group. Salem History Web.