For most Americans voting on any level is how we play a role in determining who will represent us, and ideally improve our home, local, regional, and country-wide living conditions. Unfortunately, most Americans, neither have the rudimentary knowledge of historically why voting is so important, the steep learning curve our nation traversed to get to where we are, or the gorge we still must cross until the American “experiment” has been fulfilled to be the power of democracy that future generations will not just “know about” but will fight to achieve.
This post is the rudimentary knowledge you should have to understand why you have the right to vote, and how important that right is.
In America, who can and cannot vote?
You can vote in U.S. elections if:
- You are a U.S. Citizen
- Meet your state’s residency requirements, and yes, a homeless person can still meet these requirements.
- You are 18 years or older on or before Election Day. In most states you can register to vote before you turn 18 if you will be 18 by Election Day.
- You are registered to vote by your state’s voter registration deadline, if your state requires registration.
You cannot vote in U.S. elections if:
- You are a non-citizen, including permanent legal residents.
- Rules vary by state, but some people with felony convictions cannot vote
- Rules vary, though some people with mental incapacity cannot vote.
- For president, U.S. Citizens residing in U.S. territories cannot vote. (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands.
What about voter suppression?
In today’s world, it is hard to believe that voter supression still exists, but it does. In some forms voter suppression is blatant, and in other forms it is wrong, even illegal, and yet people have found loop holes in the process to supress voting.
The outcome of voter suppression is obvious. One group, party, or affiliation does not want the opposing party to win an election. There are several reasons why voter suppression occurs from racism, religious persecution, gender persecution, and other political or personal motivations. While voter suppression is illegal, and in most cases is due to a small and sometimes influential segment of politics, it is also notable that there are many cases in which voter supression has occurred in order to prevent oppression. However, it is also notable that most cases of voter suppression have occured by the powers in charge who are concerned about losing their power.
The following are common voter suppression tactics.
- Intimidation is likely the most common form of voter suppression since the early days of our country. But, we are no longer in Jim Crow era (local and state laws that enforced segregation). How can voter intimidation still exist? Well, in the 1980s, the Republican National Comittee got introuble when they sponsored a group called the National Ballot Security Task Force to patrol polling stations under the context of “identifying voter fraud.” This group was later sued for steering black voters away from polling locations in New Jersey. In 2009, members of New Black Panther Party for Self Defense was sued for brandishing police-style batons to intimidate voters near a Philadelphia polling station during the 2008 presidential election. As recently as 2012, Clear Channel Outdoor removed billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin removed signs due to public accusations of voter intimidation.
- Disinformation is one of the most prevelent ways to suppress voters in today’s world of social media. disinformation typically targets an entire population such as an ethnic group or religious affiliation. For example, in the 2008 elections, Democrats in Nevada received robo-calls informing them that they could vote on November 5 — a day after the election — to avoid long lines. Hispanic voters in Nevada received similar messages saying that they could vote by phone. Voters in Lake County, Ohio, received official-looking mail stating that voters who had registered to vote through Democratic-leaning organizations would be barred from the 2008 election. And Michigan’s Secretary of State had to fight a phone-based disinformation campaign telling absentee voters to mail their ballots to the wrong address. Social media campaigns by domestic and foreign entities use social media to sway voting through false statements, lies, and propaganda which are meant to lean to one political party or another, disuade people from voting, and, sew confusion in American society.
- Political deviancy is another common way to suppress voting. Often, these laws and policies come with a disinformation campaign to justify the need of these voter suppression laws, even when evidence is to the contrary, or no evidence exists to bolster the political “need”. The most common of these political agendas in recent years include stricter voter ID laws designed to deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, English as a second language, and other minority groups. Similarly, state legislatures have passed laws barring convicted felons – even those who served their sentence – from ever voting again. Other states have tightened the window for absentee, overseas and early voting, and banned same-day voter registration. Some states want to require voters to provide a proof of citizenship. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claim these laws have one purpose: to restrict and suppress the ability of minority, disabled and elderly voters from casting their vote.
When it comes to voter suppression it is important that each eligible voter understands their voting rights regardless of what friends, nefarious actors, and social media tells you. In order to withdraw yourself from disinformation you must seek information from reliable sources including your local government and verifiably trusted media sources who seek information by fact rather than opinion and conspiracy theory. Social media, while it plays a critical role in our society is prone to abuse directly linked to voter supression.
I just go in and vote, I don’t get why it’s so difficult?
Most Americans grow up understanding that voting is a personal right gauranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. But, it has not always been like that. In fact, it wasn’t until the last 60 years that voting was by law a guaranteed right by U.S. citizens. Most white males didn’t have the right to vote until the late 1800s when property and tax requirements were lifted by most states. Women didn’t have the right to vote until 1920. And, for most minorities, while there were technical rights to vote as early as the 1870s, were suppressed due to Jim Crow laws, technicalities, and other suppression until the voting rights act of 1965.
The following is a timeline of key moments in the United States long attempt at improving voting rights. While all of the dates are important to the development of equal rights for all we are still moving forward on the ideologies of a truly democratic nation. Know your facts, fight for equal rights, and if you see voter suppression contact your local authorities, and vote – because your vote is the one that counts.
- 1789 Property owning, tax paying white males (6% of population)
- 1856: property qualification removed from all states, allowing for majority of white, non-poor, and males to vote.
- 1962: Native Americans gauranteed the right to vote in every state.
- 1789: The Constitution grants the states the power to set voting requirements. Generally, states limited this right to property-owning or tax-paying white males (about 6% of the population).
- 1790: The Naturalization Act of 1790 allows free white persons born outside of the United States to become citizens. However, due to the Constitution granting the states the power to set voting requirements, this Act (and its successor Act of 1795) did not automatically grant the right to vote.
- 1792–1838: Free black males lose the right to vote in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey.
- 1792–1856: Abolition of property qualifications for white men, from 1792 (Kentucky) to 1856 (North Carolina) during the periods of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy.
- In the 1820 election, there were 108,359 ballots cast. Most older states with property restrictions dropped them by the mid-1820s, except for Rhode Island, Virginia and North Carolina. No new states had property qualifications although three had adopted tax-paying qualifications – Ohio, Louisiana, and Mississippi, of which only in Louisiana were these significant and long lasting.
- The 1828 presidential election was the first in which non-property-holding white males could vote in the vast majority of states. By the end of the 1820s, attitudes and state laws had shifted in favor of universal white male suffrage.
- Voter turnout soared during the 1830s, reaching about 80% of adult white male population in the 1840 presidential election. 2,412,694 ballots were cast, an increase that far outstripped natural population growth, making poor voters a huge part of the electorate. The process was peaceful and widely supported, except in the state of Rhode Island where the Dorr Rebellion of the 1840s demonstrated that the demand for equal suffrage was broad and strong, although the subsequent reform included a significant property requirement for anyone resident but born outside of the United States.
- The last state to abolish property qualification was North Carolina in 1856 resulting in a close approximation to universal white male suffrage. However, tax-paying qualifications remained in five states in 1860 – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware and North Carolina. They survived in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island until the 20th century. In addition, many poor whites were later disenfranchised.
- 1868: Citizenship is guaranteed to all male persons born or naturalized in the United States by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, setting the stage for future expansions to voting rights.
- 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents states from denying the right to vote on grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.
- Disfranchisement after Reconstruction era began soon after. Former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws and amendments to effectively disfranchise black and poor white voters through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions, applied in a discriminatory manner. During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld state efforts to discriminate against racial minorities; only later in the 20th century were these laws ruled unconstitutional. Black males in the Northern states could vote, but the majority of African Americans lived in the South.
- 1887: Citizenship is granted to Native Americans who are willing to disassociate themselves from their tribe by the Dawes Act, making those males technically eligible to vote.
- 1913: Direct election of Senators, established by the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, gave voters rather than state legislatures the right to elect senators.
- 1920: Women are guaranteed the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In practice, the same restrictions that hindered the ability of non-white men to vote now also applied to non-white women.
- 1924: All Native Americans are granted citizenship and the right to vote through the Indian Citizenship Act, regardless of tribal affiliation. By this point, approximately two thirds of Native Americans were already citizens. Notwithstanding, some western states continued to bar Native Americans from voting until 1948.
- 1943: Chinese immigrants given the right to citizenship and the right to vote by the Magnuson Act.
- 1948: Arizona and New Mexico became the last states to extend full voting rights to Native Americans, which had been opposed by some western states in contravention of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
- 1961: Residents of Washington, D.C. are granted the right to vote in U.S. Presidential Elections by the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- 1962-1964: A historic turning point arrived after the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren made a series of landmark decisions which helped establish the nationwide “one man, one vote” electoral system in the United States.
- In March 1962, the Warren Court ruled in Baker v. Carr (1962) that redistricting qualifies as a justiciable question, thus enabling federal courts to hear redistricting cases.
- In February 1964, the Warren Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) that districts in the United States House of Representatives must be approximately equal in population.
- In June 1964, the Warren Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) that both houses of the electoral districts of state legislative chambers must be roughly equal in population..
- 1964: Poll Tax payment prohibited from being used as a condition for voting in federal elections by the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- 1965: Protection of voter registration and voting for racial minorities, later applied to language minorities, is established by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This has also been applied to correcting discriminatory election systems and districting.
- 1966: Tax payment and wealth requirements for voting in state elections are prohibited by the Supreme Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections.
- 1971: Adults aged 18 through 21 are granted the right to vote by the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This was enacted in response to Vietnam War protests, which argued that soldiers who were old enough to fight for their country should be granted the right to vote.
- 1972: Requirement that a person reside in a jurisdiction for an extended period is prohibited by the Supreme Court in Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972).
- 1973: Washington, D.C. local elections, such as Mayor and Councilmen, restored after a 100-year gap in Georgetown, and a 190-year gap in the wider city, ending Congress’s policy of local election disfranchisement started in 1801 in this former portion of Maryland—see: D.C. Home rule.
- 1986: United States Military and Uniformed Services, Merchant Marine, other citizens overseas, living on bases in the United States, abroad, or aboard ship are granted the right to vote by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
- 1996–2008: Twenty-eight US states changed their laws on felon voting rights, mostly to restore rights or to simplify the process of restoration.
- 2006: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was extended for the fourth time by George W. Bush, being the second extension of 25 years.
- 2008: State laws on felony disenfranchisement have since continued to shift, both curtailing and restoring voter rights, sometimes over short periods of time within the same US state.
- 2013: Supreme Court ruled in a 5–4 decision that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) stated that if states or local governments wants to change their voting laws, they must appeal to the Attorney General.