Podcast # 5: Voting Rights in the U.S.

Today the voting requirements are: U.S. Citizen, 18 +.

It wasn’t always this way. Over the course of our nation’s history, the right to vote has been extended to various groups and the age requirement has changed. The extension of the right to vote didn’t happen easily or wasn’t always achieved peacefully. People died, people were beaten, people were lynched, people were left to rot in jail cells, all because they wanted the right to vote.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 58% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 Presidential election In the midterm elections in 2018 – 47% of eligible voters actually voted. WHY AREN’T PEOPLE VOTING?

Discontent with the process – feel vote doesn’t count Had to work

Didn’t like any of the candidates


To understand WHY it is so important to register to vote and actually vote in elections, let’s take a look back at who had the right to vote and when it was given.

At the creation of our Government in 1789 the only people who could vote were “white land owning man over the age of 21. Founding Fathers didn’t trust men without property. The feeling of the time was that this group was the most qualified to rule. Individual states and eventually territories could determine who could vote. A few states and territories allowed women and freed blacks to vote, usually as long as they met the land owning qualifications. This was the status quo until the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was referred to as the Champion of the Common Man. By 1830 the majority of states removed the land owning qualification and we now had Universal White Manhood Suffrage.

The next change to the right to vote came after the end of the Civil War. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed. It stipulated that the right to vote “couldn’t be abridged or denied on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude”. It is important to note that for 100 years, voting rights for Black Americans were limited by Jim Crow laws. Many were disenfranchised by things such as poll taxes, literacy tests, the Grandfather clause, the KKK, lynchings, and various other forms of violence to intimidate people from attempting to register to vote or to stay away from the polls on election day.

Women earned the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. The women’s suffrage movement began in the mid-1800s. The 1848 Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. is considered the start of the Suffrage Movement but calls for women to gain the right to vote started earlier. Jane Adams of course writing to her husband “not to forget the ladies”. For women, gaining the right to vote was critical. Women were 2nd class citizens, basically children in the eyes of the law. The right to vote was a critical first step for women to set out to achieve other goals like access to education, eventually higher education, to open fields that women didn’t traditionally work in, even more recently the wage gap.e

A series of Amendments were passed which further protected and furthered voting rights.

17th Amendment: Direct election of U.S. senators

23rd Amendment: (1961) gave representatives to the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) Non-voting members except on the committee level D.C. has the same number as the least populous state (Wyoming – 3 electors).

License plates “Taxation without representation”

24th Amendment (1964) helped to protect voting rights for minority groups and the poor. Outlawed poll taxes

26th Amendment (1971) – lowered voting age from 21 to 18. In response to Vietnam protests. If you can be drafted, you should be able to vote for the person that it sending you there.

1975 – Voting materials must be translated

1984 – Polling places must be accessible for elderly and those with disabilities (fairvote.org)

Felons and disenfranchisement


Felony disenfranchisement impacts 6.1 Million people

Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow persons in prison to vote NJ is considering a similar law that would allow felons to vote while in Prison

30 States disenfranchise individuals on Probation

34 states disenfranchise parolees

According to fairvote.org “States including Florida, Iowa, Virginia and Kentucky, ex-felons face a lengthy waiting period and must appear in front of a board and then go through a re-registration process to restore their voting rights.

Iowa and Kentucky have the strictest laws Feb 2019 – bills proposed neither has passed and it doesn’t look like it will this legislative calendar year.

Virginia – Gov. has a law that permits him or her to restore voting rights on an individual case basis

Florida – law dates back to the Reconstruction Era

Gov. Rick Scott (2 terms – 3,000 restored)

Former Gov. of Florida Charlie Christ restored 150,000 voting rights during his 4-year term

Committee met 4 times a year. No standards, completely based on their opinion Completely arbitrary process

Nov. 2018

Florida voters passed an amendment to their state constitution which would “restore voting rights to persons convicted of a felony (except murder or sexual offenses) after they have completed all terms of their sentence including parole or probation”

The state legislature quickly passed a law which required individuals to pay back fines or fees to the courts before they could vote.

May of 2020 a Florida Judge ruled that mandating individuals to repay court fees was declared unconstitutional. It discriminated against those who were unable to pay. It was a poll tax by another name. It should never be where someone has to pay to vote. Election results in Florida tend to have very close margins.

Go to Vote.gov to register to vote.

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