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Posted on November 2, 2020 at 2:01 PM by Melinda Mayo
Nov. 3 is, of course, Election Day and this year it was preceded by early voting and voting by mail, largely a result of safety concerns over the Coronavirus. Voting is a right, long sought by everyday people, secured through determination, protest, and policy. The reality is that upon establishment of this Nation, very few had secured that right. For nearly the entirety of the more than 200 years of our Country’s history, the struggle to secure this fundamental right has persisted.
Upon establishment of our Country, it is estimated by some that as little as six percent of the population was allowed to vote. Limited by the states essentially to white males owning property or paying taxes, millions remained disenfranchised—little changed from the Colonial experience most had lived under prior to the Revolution. Notably, in a few northern states voting was extended to property-owning free men of color, though this right was taken away in all states beginning around the turn of the 19th Century. Near the end of the 18th Century and beginning of the 19th Century, states began allowing foreign-born white males to vote, and slowly started to lift the property ownership requirements.
Women and Native Americans
It was not until 1869 that women were extended the right to vote, first in Wyoming—though this did not apply to all states until passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1920, and even then impediments to fully realizing this right remained for poor white women and, of course, for women of color and Native Americans.
Long viewed as non-citizens, Native Americans were denied the right to vote until 1887, and then only after they disavowed their allegiance to their tribal affiliation. This requirement would remain in most states until the 1920’s and in some western states until after World War II, when Arizona and New Mexico became the last to fully extend voting rights to Native Americans.
Immigrants and African Americans
In 1790, white males born outside of the United States were granted the right to vote if they also met requirements of property ownership or tax payments. This right was not extended to all immigrants— Chinese immigrants were not provided the right to vote until 1943.
Though the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution officially defended the right to vote for freed Black men, southern states actively impeded these rights suppressing (often through violence) the ability for men of color, along with poor white citizens, from exercising their rights. These Jim Crow era suppressions continued in the southern states unabated until the late 1960’s.
The Young and Others
Not until 1961 were residents of Washington, D.C., provided the right to vote in presidential elections. The prohibition remains in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam—even for U.S. citizens residing in such locations.
It was not until 1971 that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, citing the preponderance of young men fighting in the Vietnam Conflict but unable to cast a vote. U.S. citizens living abroad or serving in the military overseas were not afforded the opportunity to vote absentee until 1986.
Only in 1990 were specific actions required to ensure citizens with disabilities were able to adequately exercise their right to vote through the Americans with Disabilities Act, and later with the Help America Vote Act, which also helped address disenfranchisement amongst homeless citizens.
For many, for much of the history of our Nation, voting has been hard-earned. Property ownership, religious tests, immigration status, race, literacy tests, poll taxes, violence, and a myriad of other efforts at denial or suppression of these rights have long disenfranchised many. The right to elect those who represent us and lead our communities, states, and nation is one of the dearest rights and should not be squandered. This year’s process for voting may differ from the past, and the virus represents real risk. But it is incumbent upon each of us to honor the right we have, that for so long, so many did not. Vote on Nov. 3.
-- Bob Cowell
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