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  • Sojourners For Truth & Justice

UNIVERSAL VOTING RIGHTS

Updated: Jul 16, 2020


Voting Rights are the keystone of a democracy. The United States established these rights at its inception. Although, full participation in this hallowed right has a tortured past and present.

TIMELINE

  • 1779 Voting rights controlled by the state legislators, white men over 21 who own land.

  • 1780 15th amendment, eliminates racial barriers to voting: many states continue voting discrimination, poll tax, literacy test, fraud, an intimidation.

  • 1870 End of Reconstruction of the 15th Amendment

  • 1877 Reconstruction

  • 1920 Women win the right to vote; ratification of the 19th Amendment.

  • 1924 The First Nations won citizenship and the right to vote.

  • 1964 Civil Rights Act; Federal legislation. Guarantees all men and women over 21 can vote regardless of race, religion and education.

  • 1965 Voting Rights Act; Federal legislation, prohibits racial discrimination, enforce right guaranteed by 14th and 15th amendments.

  • 1971 Decreases voting to age 18.

  • 1984 Provide accessibility to the old and handicapped.

  • 2009 Mail-in voting legal in 2 states.

  • 2013 The Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing 9 states mostly in the South to change their election laws without federal approval.

In 1870, when Mississippi rejoined the union, the 15th Amendment was ratified. It stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

More than a half-million Black men became voters in the South during the 1870s. For the most part, these new Black voters cast their ballots ‘solidly for the Republican Party, the party of the “Great Emancipator’’, Abraham Lincoln. When Mississippi rejoined the Union in 1870, former slaves made up more than half of that state’s population.

Then came Post-Reconstruction and with it the rise of white supremacy. Not only were laws put in place to prevent Blacks from voting; mob violence including the KKK, destruction of property, loss of employment, and other threats prevailed to deny Blacks their right to vote in many southern states.

During the Selma Montgomery Voting Rights March on March 7, 1965, civil rights workers, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and SNCC marched to protest nonviolent and violent abridging of Black people’s voting rights in Southern states. They were set upon and brutally attacked by state troopers and locally deputized white males as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

An historic turning point arrived when the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled in 1964 that both houses of all state legislatures had to be based on election districts that were relatively equal in population size, under the “one man, one vote principle; to prevent gerrymandering. And when in 1965, the landmark Voting Rights Act, was signed by President Lyndon, B. Johnson, it was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, “to secure the right to vote for racial minorities, especially in the South.” In 2013 that same court basically gutted the Act making way for voter purging and other methods to disqualify voters.

Voting rights are under continuing attack nationwide as state legislatures pass voter suppression laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud and safeguarding election integrity. These voter suppression laws take many forms and include gerrymandering, cutting back on early voting, voter ID laws, and making it harder for people to vote when they go to the wrong precinct. Students are also regularly disqualified when attempting to vote where they go to school. Collectively, such measures lead to significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.

The progressive Brennen Center for Justice is out with an alarming new report documenting the widespread use of voting roll purges; that between 2016 and 2018, counties with a history of voter discrimination have continued purging people from the rolls at much higher rates than other counties.

The numbers are startling. “At least 17 million voters were purged nationwide between 2016 and 2018, similar to the number we saw between 2014 and 2016, but considerably higher than we saw between 2006 and 2008.” Moreover, the purged voters come disproportionately from jurisdictions that, because of their history of voter discrimination, were previously required to preclear electoral law changes with the Justice Department. That requirement has been on hold since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

In order to bring voter registration into the 21st century and make voting as convenient as possible, it will be necessary to institute effective changes that will ensure all Americans who want to cast a ballot are able to do so. State-level efforts to expand access to the polls include expanding early voting, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration. Sojourners for Truth and Justice want the option to vote by mail guaranteed to all.

This isn’t merely about partisan advantage. The artificial reduction in the electorate with an eye toward boosting the percentage of white, Republican voters strikes at the heart of our democracy. The Voting Rights Act, before it was hobbled by the court, allowed millions of African Americans to vote for the first time, changing the composition of federal and state offices and changing legislative outcomes.


Unless and until we expand the electorate (e.g. with voting by mail, automatic or same-day registration), we are undercutting our democracy and undercutting the winners’ claim to moral and political legitimacy. If nothing else, the 2020 election needs to be about reestablishing functional democracy. And that can only happen when everyone who wants to can vote and every vote gets counted. This 2020 election is CRITICAL, we must get every eligible voter to vote and guarantee that their vote is counted.

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