Voting Rights

Voting Rights

Historical Overview:

  • The US Constitution originally left the right to vote to individual states, leading to major inequalities.

  • 15th Amendment (1870): Granted the right to vote on a universal basis, regardless of “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.”. However, it was largely not enforced until the 20th century.

  • 19th Amendment (1920): Granted women the right to vote. It marked a significant expansion of the electorate, but women of color were still often denied voting rights.

  • 24th Amendment (1964): Abolished the poll tax, a fee charged to voters as a prerequisite to their registration, which disenfranchised many poor and primarily African-American citizens.

  • Voting Rights Act (1965): Landmark legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in voting. It aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment.

Contemporary Issues:

  • Voter ID Laws: Many states have controversial laws requiring voters to present specific types of identification in order to vote, leading to accusations of disenfranchisement.

  • Felony Disenfranchisement: Many states permanently or temporarily disenfranchise citizens with felony convictions. This disproportionately affects African American communities.

  • Gerrymandering: The process of drawing voting districts in a way that advantages a particular party. This undermines the principle of “one person, one vote”.

  • Voter Suppression tactics: Include purges of voter rolls, limitations on early and absentee voting, and closing of polling places in certain areas, typically those with large minority populations.

Significant Supreme Court Cases:

  • Shelby County v. Holder (2013): Struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, leading to a resurgence of state laws allegedly infringing on voting rights.

  • Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute (2018): Upheld a law that allowed states to purge their voter rolls of individuals who had not voted in recent elections.

  • Rucho v. Common Cause (2019): Ruled that partisan gerrymandering is a political question, not reviewable by federal courts. This decision effectively leaves the control of voting district maps in the hands of the state legislatures.

The Democrats vs The Republicans:

  • The Democratic Party generally advocates for expanding voting rights and making it easier for citizens to vote.

  • The Republican Party often states it is trying to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of the electoral system. However, critics suggest this is often a pretext for limiting voting rights to advantage the party electorally.

  • These issues often come to a head in highly partisan, contentious election cycles and can result in significant legal battles.

Role of Activism:

  • There is considerable grassroots and organizational effort focused on expanding voting rights, education about rights, and efforts to combat voter suppression.

  • Understanding the evolving landscape of voting rights, the history that has shaped it, and the primary challenges and concerns existing today are critical for a fuller understanding of US Politics.