Updated: Jun 21
American Political Voting system is wonderful in regard – it is enriched with material that could be a perfect case study – how the oldest democracy is still struggling to find an answer who should vote? No matter what the era is, the extreme discontent regarding voting right always remained in the limelight, whether between Federalists and Anti-federalists, North and South, and now Democrats and Republicans.
Voting Rights in History:
In the beginning, the power of voting was in the hand of those who owned property; while women, Black people, and those having no property ownership, remained deprived from voting rights. It was because the power was mostly concentrated on Political Elites, Military Veterans, Business owners, and family pedigrees. However, time passes, and the notions of empowering ordinary people to evolve.
Universal Manhood Suffrage:
The concept of Universal Manhood suffrage emerged in 1820s wherein it was realized that all common white people, whether rich or poor, should have the right to vote. Thus, the requirement of property qualification for voting was terminated in 1820. Resultantly, those white men, who could pay taxes, were held eligible to vote.
Nevertheless, the voting rights were still confined to white men, neither to the Black community nor women. There were no rights for Black people to vote and ground their participation in democracy until the Civil War. Moreover, slavery was constitutionally allowed. After the detrimental civil war, the 13th amendment finally abolished slavery, and the 15th amendment dismantled the deprivation of voting rights based on race, but in reality, a new draconian chapter had begun with the induction of Jim crow’s laws, where the rights would be given but with the separation.
The white racist captured the opportunity to exploit constitutional loopholes by introducing complex methods to become eligible voters. For instance, Grandfather clause, literacy test, and Poll Tax were all discriminatory so that only white people had gone past these procedures. For passing the Literacy test, a person had to read a critical passage which was a very difficult task for Black. Because they remained in slavery, very few could attain an education. On the other hand, some whites were uneducated, and as Black, they could not pass.
However, because of white supremacy, their race brother used to give an easy passage, so they could pass and become eligible to vote. If not, the Grandfather Clause was proven as the green-pass whereby anyone whose father or grandfather had ever voted would be eligible to vote. The irony was that the Black ancestor remained in servitude and never voted. In that way, only white could harvest the benefit from the Clause, and they did. The third discriminatory act was Poll Tax which was only used to allow the people whose financial conditions were good. Because Black was financially in penury, they could become voter eligible.
The discrimination was not limited to race but also sex. For example, women had been remained deprived for more than 100 years. By 1920, after the 19th amendment, women were finally allowed to vote, which was the landmark event in the history of the US. Today, more women participate in the election, and their voter turnout is quite relatively higher than men. However, discrimination against race always remained in the limelight. One aspect of the Civil rights movement was also eliminating racial discrimination in terms of voting right suppression.
Finally, the ice was broken when the Voting Rights Act (1965) was passed through the houses and enacted. This act is important because it formed a federal body wherein the Attorney general was appointed to monitor and check the states’ voting law. If the laws were racially discriminated against, the Attorney General used to overturn those laws. This method is known as preclearance. Law concerning voting could not be passed if the discriminating factors are found to suppress any particular community voting freedom. However, comprehensive voting power had been granted to all Americans, but the voting age was limited to a minimum of 21.
After being engaged in a crucial war, “the Vietnam War,” a new debate had begun: if the young guns can fight a war, why can’t they vote. The slogan in the 1960s, old enough to war and old enough to vote, got popularized, and finally, the minimum voting age was lowered down to 18 from 21 with the ratification of the 26th amendment.
However, the progress was reversed when the Shelby County v. Holder (2013) case reverted the Voting Right Act (VRA), and the supreme court passed a judgment that the preclearance method is unconstitutional. Moreover, the state has autonomous power to make legislation, and no federal authority can override it.
After 50 years, the needle has come back to the point where it was before 1965 whether the states are the ultimate authority to define voting laws, or federal intervention is mandatory to challenge the state laws if there are discriminatory factors. Democrats are in favor of increasing voter turnout and removing the states’ restrictions. For instance, in a year, they have come with laws such as For the People Act (H.R.1) and the Freedom to Vote Act, which are very comprehensive in outlook to ease in voting. However, both bills were blocked by the Republicans in the Senate, condemning that the bills are authoritative and take away the powers from the state.