Voting: Yet Another One of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers
There are still a few barriers that tend to disqualify certain groups of people from participating in our democracy. Restrictions to voting and voting rights are one of these remaining great disqualifiers that negatively affect far too many people. The interesting part of this issue is the fact that voting rights are established for all citizens as a birthright. The only restriction that should prevent American citizens from voting is age, and once that barrier is passed the right to vote should no longer be an issue. However, even though it is 2016, the fundamental right to vote is still not guaranteed for all American citizens. It is one of the remaining great disqualifiers.
To effectively make the point that voting has always been a disqualifier, we must look back through the course of our history. When our nation was founded, voting was an exercise that only white male wealthy landowners could do. Over time, voting rights were gradually extended to other segments of the population thanks to adding amendment after amendment to the US Constitution. Take a look at the timeline that nearly ended voting as a remaining great disqualifier. Then think about the continuation of the discrimination that remained despite of the amendments created to prevent it…
- Fifteenth Amendment (15th) 1870: non-white males, regardless of property ownership received right to vote
- Nineteenth Amendment (19th) 1920: women received right to vote
- Twenty-fourth Amendment (24th) 1964: ended poll tax as a disqualifier from voting
- Twenty-sixth Amendment (26th) 1971: reduced voting age to 18
Despite the ratification of these amendments, major pockets of resistance to voting rights remained. These included denying the rights of freed male black former slaves from voting, even though the 15th Amendment allowed it. Females of all races could not until after the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote. Poll taxes, which were a pay-to-vote scheme, prevented many people from voting until the 24th Amendment made the practice illegal. Finally, the age barrier was reduced by the 26th Amendment, thanks in large part to opposition to the Vietnam War.
One must ask why these pockets of resistance to voting, otherwise known as remaining great disqualifiers, existed even after laws were put in place to abolish them. Something more sinister was taking place, and history has a way of documenting injustices for the record. At various parts of our history, the following groups of people were not allowed to vote: women, poor white men, slaves and free blacks, Native Americans, and in some cities, Jews and even Catholics. It would take two sweeping pieces of legislation to “end” voting inequalities: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both of these laws included various parts which, in theory, should have ended all forms of voting discrimination.
After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, we must ask ourselves why court cases and laws created by individual states still to this day challenge the voting rights of so many groups of people. The door that closed on voting inequalities in the 1960s was opened by the Supreme Court in 2013 when it struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act. The Court determined that many of the safeguards put in place to protect voting rights for African Americans in the South were outdated and unnecessary. You would think that would be the case in 2013. However, soon after this ruling several states in the South and others controlled by Republican legislatures enacted laws that make it more difficult for some people to vote in 2016!
In 2016, many people face barriers such as reduced early voting times, new ID laws, and stricter registration dates and rules. Voting is still one of the remaining great disqualifiers. The recent headlines from the past week prove this is true. The good news is courts around the country are knocking down laws that put unreasonable restrictions on voting. For example, on July 29, 2016 a federal court struck down a North Carolina Law that included strict identification guidelines for voting. Other states, such as Texas, Ohio, and Wisconsin have similar laws that are currently being litigated.
As we complete this brief examination of voting in America, we must ask again why so many restrictions have been placed on the voting rights of so many people. The truth is that some people simply do not want others in our society to vote. This crosses over issues of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, and political affiliation. Therefore, the only way to finally end challenges to voting is to adopt common-sense measures that can be applied equally and fairly for all American citizens. The following list is a good start:
- Create a national voter ID, offered free of charge, that could also be used in state and local elections for identification.
- Distribute free voter IDs at driver’s license centers as an option for those who cannot obtain a driver’s license for various reasons
- Switch the national voting day to a Saturday so less people would have to make arrangements to get off work to vote, or keep Election day on Tuesday, and allow all workers to have two hours of paid time to vote.
- Allow national early voting days to be uniform in all states.
- Give voter registration cards to all high school graduates so they can start the registration process immediately.
- Develop a better system similar to airline screening that eliminates voting fraud.
These are only some ideas that may be developed in the future. For now, we have to rely on the court systems, as well as our elected officials, and everyday citizens to help ensure the voting rights of all Americans. Hopefully someday soon, this will be this will no longer be an issue for any American citizen over the age of 18.Voting has been one of the remaining great disqualifiers for far too long.
This is a follow-up to my original posts:
Be on the lookout for my next post… Mass Incarceration: Maybe the Last of the Remaining Great Disqualifiers