Voting may be described as a franchise utilized by a nation as a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for the resolution of an issue, according to the free online dictionary. Politically speaking, voting is a privilege for citizens to express their political opinions. The United States was granted independence in 1776, but however held their first presidential election in 1789 the seventh day of January, as reported by History.com. President George Washington took office on this day as the first president of the United States elected under the Constitution. However, only white males who owned property were granted the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. At that time, it was about four to six percent of the white population that owned property. In addition, almost all women and all other people of color were denied this opportunity. Before President Washington, the US operated under the Articles of Confederation.
Further more, the Cobb-La Marche website reported that the eighteenth (18th) century brought forward changes in relation as to who could cast ballots in an election. Most white males were then permitted to vote whether or not they owned property. Despite that move forward, there were barriers that still hindered people from voting, which included; literacy tests, poll taxes and even religious tests. However, the main event leading up to those changes was the Civil War. The term ‘Civil War’ may be defined as War Between the States. With reference to Martin Kelly’s article, the civil war lasted from 1861 to 1865 and destroyed thousands of lives.
He also stated that causes for the war could be traced back to tensions that formed early in the nation’s history. There were various issues that triggered the civil war. However, three of the main causes were due to the social and economic differences between the North and the South, where the South was enslaved. The Growth of the Abolition Movement was another major one followed by the election of Abraham Lincoln. Through Christy Rakoczy’s article ‘when did civil war start?’ opinions roared over the proposition and the opposition of slavery. The opposition were not fighting to abolish slavery but to stop it from spreading into new lands. However, before the appointment of President Lincoln to office in 1860, seven states; South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas were declaring secession, as they believed President Lincoln was anti-slavery. No time after, four other states joined in; North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee. After president Lincoln took office, he targeted The Confederate States of America; as there were called, and revealed that they violated The Constitution and did not have authority to secede from the union. Through his inaugural address, President Lincoln stated that he had no intention to abolish slavery where it existed already neither to invade the southern states, but he would use excessive force to retain federal lands.
However, by the end of the war, slaves were set free based on the Emancipation Proclamation delivered by the president after the battle of Antietam.
The 14th amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1866. This amendment paved the way for African American men who were former slaves to attain citizenship. Followed by that was the 15th amendment that gave them the right to vote in the year 1869. At this time, women of all races were still not allowed to vote. It was during this time that they were utilizing ‘Black Codes’. ‘Black Codes’ may be described as state laws that restricted the movement of African Americans. Despite the right to vote, they weren’t free to vote because of restrictions like threats of physical violence and the fact that only a few of them were literate. Passing the literacy test was one of the requirements to vote.
In 1848, supporters of the Constitutional Amendment to allow women to vote gathered at the Seneca Falls Convention. For the women, it was like fighting a losing battle, because for many years it did not yield any results. However, due to persistence, they won the fight, the right to vote in the year 1920.
Next up were the Native Americans. According to the web they could become citizens only if they decided to quit tribal affiliations. Many of them did and acquired citizenship by the year 1924. Asian Americans and Latinos also were permitted to vote during this time. As stated before, many of them were then denied their right in many states because of property requirements, concealed polls and condoned violence.
For some groups of people, their fight to suffrage was harder. Since 1970, Asian Pacific Americans were not considered eligible to attain citizenship. Changes made later to naturalization and immigration laws turned it around and a selected few received the franchise. Also elections did not see many ballots from this group until 1965, when major changes were made to the Immigration and Naturalization laws and when the voters’ rights act was passed.
Once the treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo ended the Mexican War, the Mexican Americans were supposed to receive voting rights and citizenship in 1848. However, where the Mexicans settled in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, those states imposed the same stratagems used on everyone else. Property and literacy requirements were used to keep them away from the polls. The right to equality and the right to vote were being protested by one group ‘The Sons of America’ which was organized in 1921. This still didn’t help the Mexicans as they didn’t receive suffrage until 1975- ten years after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed!
Considering all the discrimination against all those people, all in the name of exercising a constitutional right, in 1965 the Voters’ Rights Act was passed. Data gathered from the US Department of Justice website, depicts the Acts main purpose was to end discriminatory voting practices and protect the rights of the citizens. Barriers that were once obstructing the votes of the minorities, such as; concealed polls, poll tests etc were made illegal under this Act. The Act declared people who were registered citizens to vote regardless of race and/or color.
Still amendments continued to be made to the Voters’ Rights Acts and by 1970 language assistance was provided for people who weren’t fluent English speakers, for example the Latinos. History kept recording and twenty years later, the Americans with disabilities Act was passed in 1990. This Act provided ballots and poll access for those with disabilities. Voters Rights over the years have become more and more culturally diverse and the other good thing about is, the enforcement of these laws still continues.
Voting in the US today is a whole new experience. Individual States have implemented their own voting age for local elections. According to Laws.com nineteen (19) states currently permit seventeen (17) year olds to vote in primary elections. However, one thing they share in common is the voting age for federal elections, which is eighteen (18) years and older. Today, anyone can vote as long as they are registered citizens, despite race, gender, color and political affiliations.
The fight for power has caused elections at times to be unfair and biased, whether by outdated and faulty machines or deliberately dumping ballots, thus sabotaging the rights of the people. To provide fair elections for American citizens, The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in The House of Representatives due to the controversy surrounding the 2000 election. It was actually implemented in 2002 and was designed to make improvements in the voting system and voter’s access that were at fault in the 2000 Presidential Election. It was also implemented to replace the punch card and lever voting systems, which were also time-consuming and inefficient.
Strong determination and perseverance from many nations has gotten them recognition in the US. Some may argue that the battle may not be won, but the fight still goes on. Tribute must be paid to all forefathers, civil rights activists and congressman responsible for this revolutionary and historic change that United States of America has ever experienced.