With the U.S elections a month away, we continue our series with a look at one of the most fundamental rights -- the right to vote.
Unfortunately, even though the U.S Constitution grants this right to every citizen, the voting process has been far from democratic. While some states are allowing mail-in ballots, others are making it hard for citizens to vote, especially people of color.
Let's look at a brief history (detailed article here) and how the battle to protect this hard-earned right continues today.
A Hard-Earned Right
Boston, 1750: Americans were living under the thumb of the British monarchy. When the British Parliament began slapping a tax on all types of goods, the anger over “taxation without representation” sparked the American Revolution and led to the birth of the nation.
However, in the beginning, only white men of property could vote. In 1870, following a bloody and drawn out Civil War to end slavery, the United States government added an amendment to the Constitution, granting non-white men the right to vote.
States, however, still found ways to get around the law. They excluded citizens from voting based on literacy tests and poll taxes. Since former slaves had been denied the right to education and were extremely impoverished, many African-Americans failed the literacy tests. It wasn't until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s that these barriers to voting were removed and African-Americans could finally cast their ballots.
Another group that was excluded were women, who finally gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. However, while we have come a long way from the early days of 1789, the struggle continues today.
The most recent setback was in 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down an important clause in the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. This clause required that parts of the country where there was a history of discrimination should have any changes to voting laws approved by the federal government. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 along party lines to remove this clause, claiming that the election of President Barack Obama showed it was no longer needed.
However, soon after the decision, some states like Texas and North Carolina tried to enact new voter ID laws. Others have purged voters from records, closed polling places, or reduced voting hours, making it hard for people to exercise their rights. In fact, across the U.S South, more than 1200 voting places have been closed as of September 2019. Often, these changes affect people of color -- Blacks, Latinx, and Native Americans.
The situation has worsened in light of COVID-19 with doubts raised about fraud with mail-in ballots, even though there is no proof (read our earlier article here). Just last week, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas issued an order to close several drop-off sites for mail-in ballots, leaving only one for each county. This would mean that in some cases, counties with as many as 4.7 million voters will only have one drop-off point, and in other counties, voters would have to drive hours just to drop off their ballot!
A few independent organizations are suing local and state governments for voter suppression - a cause worth fighting for if we are to remain a democracy.
Sources: Carnegie.org, NPR, NY Times, Reuters, Guardian