Monday, March 14, 2016

Voting Rights

When the Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1789 it did not specify who was eligible to vote. Voting rights were left up to each state. The common practice at that time was that only white male property owners could vote. Since that time there have been many pieces of legislation, several court cases and four constitutional amendments that affect voting rights. I am going to relate a few changes to voting rights in mostly chronological order. This list is by no means all inclusive, just some of the highlights.

Each state made their own voting rules. After the Constitution was ratified, freed slaves were allowed to vote in four states and women were allowed to vote in New Jersey, if they owned property.

By the time the Civil War began, all white males could vote, regardless of property ownership.

The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, soon after the Civil War. This amendment prohibited denial of the right to vote based on color, race or prior condition of servitude.

The 19th Amendment ratified in 1920 prohibits denial of the right to vote based on sex.

American Indians and their tribes were considered domestic dependent nations until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. This act made Native Americans citizens and gave them voting rights.

The 24th Amendment ratified in 1964 eliminated the poll tax or any other tax to prevent people from voting.

After the Civil War and until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 many states used poll taxes, literacy tests, religious tests and other means to limit who had the right to vote. This act and the 24th Amendment stopped those practices. The Voting Rights Act required state legislatures to redistrict their states into districts of approximate equal population every ten years based on the latest census. This did not and cannot stop the practice of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the process of creating voting districts that intentionally favor one party or one group over another. Redistricting boundaries are often challenged in court, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court.

The 26th Amendment ratified in 1971 changed the voting age from 21 years of age to 18 years of age.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision threw out much of the Voting Rights Act.

There are two current voting issues the states are dealing with, primarily because of the number of illegal aliens in the country. One is a requirement for a picture ID to have the right to vote. The other issue is Evenwel v. Abbot. Evenwel v. Abbot is a case currently before the Supreme Court that will determine whether all the population is counted when apportioning legislative districts or whether only legal voters should be counted. The more illegal aliens allowed into the country, the bigger both of these issues becomes.

Apparently, who has the right to vote will continue to be an issue in the United States of America.

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