Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Right to Vote


North Carolina faces an important vote today on "Amendment One"- but that's not what this blog is about- at least, I'm not going to tell folks how I think they should vote.  I've been doing enough of that on Facebook.

Instead, let's take a brief look at voting in general.

When the United States was founded only free white men who owned land were able to vote.

By the time the Civil War came around, most free white men were able to vote, regardless of whether they owned land or not.  Remember- if you were an indentured servant, you weren't free.  However, the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and in some places religious tests helped to make sure if you were poor, illiterate, etc, you wouldn't be casting your vote.  Who cared about your opinion if you were poor?

By 1866, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution changed the status of former slaves, making them whole people, not 3/5 of a person.  In 1869, the 15th Amendment came about, guaranteeing the right to vote to black men.  However, let's not forget about the literacy tests, poll taxes, threats of violence, the hiding of polling places, etc that were used to keep black men from being able to cast their votes.  The states weren't helpful, as they enacted laws to restrict freedoms to African Americans- including restricting their right to vote.

In 1848, the Women's Suffrage movement began (though initiatives promoting giving women the vote can be traced as far back as the 1770s.)  It wasn't until 1920 that women finally were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment.
Native Americans became US citizens in 1887 if they gave up their tribal affiliations, but many didn't become US citizens until 1924.  Many Western states continued to deny them the right to vote using many of the same strategies employed against African Americans.

We can keep going- many Asian Pacific Americans were ineligible for the right to vote until 1965 unless they were born on American soil- and even then, during WWII they were not allowed to vote.

 Mexican Americans were supposed to be granted voting rights and American citizenship in 1848 when the Mexican-American War ended.  Big shock- Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas and New Mexico used violence, intimidation, property requirements and literacy requirements to keep them from voting.  It wasn't until 1975 that all Mexican Americans got the right to vote.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was enacted thanks to powerful civil rights movements, banning literacy tests and providing federal enforcement of voting registration. 

In 1970 the Voting Rights Act of 1970 provided language assistance to minority voters who weren't fluent in English.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act provided for ballot and poll access to folks with disabilities.

We have a long history of fighting for the right to cast a vote.  So get out there and do it.  People were killed over their desire to cast their vote, to have a say in their country.  So why now are we so busy that we can't be bothered?  With early voting, lines are shorter than ever.  We can go at any time- before work, during lunch, after work- some business will even allow their employees to leave to vote. 

Instead, too many people remain ignorant of the issues.  In the age of the internet, you can easily find a distilled version of a candidate's beliefs or get the bare bones version of what an Amendment is calling for.  Get out and vote- because you can.  It's your right- too many people suffered to make sure we all are granted the ability to make our opinions known to ignore their sacrifices and stay home.


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