Voting In the US, voting makes it possible for ordinary citizens to decide who will lead and represent them in their government. As such, it’s one of the most protected and assaulted rights in the nation. Many times, people with political and economic agendas have suppressed others’ right to vote. Although the problem appeared to have subsided over time, recent laws show that voter suppression is alive and well in the United States.
Gallatin County Election Day Battle 1838
From 1789 until 1870, in general, only white men were allowed to vote in the US, which made voter suppression the law of the land. (Yes, we know there were limited exceptions for women and free African Americans.)
But even for white men, efforts to suppress some voters existed during that time. The most notable was the 1838 Gallatin County Election Day Battle. The conflict arose in Missouri over an election to choose a state representative. Before the election, candidate William Peniston made a statement to Daviess County residents about the local Mormons. According to Peniston, if Missourians “suffer such men as these [Mormons] to vote, you will soon lose your suffrage.”
On Election Day, around 200 non-Mormons showed up in Gallatin to stop Mormons from voting. When a group of 30 Mormons arrived at the polling station, Dick Weldon, one of the men who wanted to stop them, said Mormons couldn’t vote in Clay County. Mormon Samuel Brown insisted otherwise, and a fight broke out between the two groups. Reports of this incident suggested that casualties occurred on both sides, but the accounts proved false following an investigation by the Mormon Church.
Gerrymandering And Identification Requirements 2013–Present
Shortly after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states began changing their election rules. This was done in a number of ways, but the most significant were gerrymandering and identification requirements. Both targeted poor people and minorities who were largely Democrats.
Gerrymandering has long been a problem in the country. Although both parties are guilty of it, the recent wave of gerrymandering across the United States has largely been done by the Republicans to steal districts from their opponents.
Another new series of rules require specific types of identification that some minorities lack. This can include a valid driver’s license, which a person might not have if he or she doesn’t drive. Other changes have made it hard to vote if a name on one form of identification doesn’t match that on another. This can happen for a woman whose maiden name differs on her birth certificate and her state ID.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 15 percent of Americans who earn less than $35,000 don’t have a government-issued photo ID, making them unable to vote in some elections. Other changes stop registration on Election Day or cut early voting time periods.
Part Of The Voting Rights Act Is Ruled Unconstitutional 2013
Even a law like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 can run afoul of the Supreme Court sooner or later. In 2013, the Justices ruled that Section 4(b) of the Act was unconstitutional.
That section dealt with the prohibitions intended to suppress the minority vote via a coverage formula. Essentially, the Act required jurisdictions that had historically suppressed voting to be under greater scrutiny. This made it impossible to reenact the types of laws that had made the Act necessary in the first place.
By repealing parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states could suddenly change their voting rules in ways that were once prohibited. However, those changes had to be cleared through the US Attorney General or a panel of three judges. But an old idiom describes what happened almost immediately, “Give a man enough rope, and he will hang himself.”
The fight against voter suppression was back on and very much real in the 21st century.
The Year It All Seemed To Change 1965
One of the biggest advancements in reducing US voter suppression came via the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with certain Supreme Court decisions made from 1962 to 1965, the Act removed obstacles for racial minorities to vote.
It extended those rights to language minorities, making it possible for citizens who didn’t speak English to cast their votes with everyone else. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a huge step forward, but it might not have been possible without the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Act required that voter registration rules be applied equally to US citizens of all races. However, it did allow jurisdictions to “qualify” voters in unfair ways. To combat this, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forced individual states to stop using literacy tests and similar requirements to deny US citizens their voting rights.
The 23rd Amendment 1961
Politicians often say that the US Constitution is a perfect document. But it was far from perfect, and the Framers knew it. That’s why it can be changed, and this enabled their successors to fix unforeseen problems. One such problem related to Washington, DC. The Constitution didn’t allow districts or territories to have members of the Electoral College. This wasn’t an immediate problem in the early 1800s because DC had less than 30,000 residents at the time. However, this meant that anyone who was a resident of DC—regardless of gender or race—couldn’t take part in federal elections. It became an increasing problem as time went on.
The 23rd Amendment fixed the problem in 1961 by granting to Washington, DC, only as many Electoral College representatives as the least populous state had, which was three. Despite DC only receiving three representatives, the amendment made voting in a federal election possible for more than 760,000 Americans at that time.