Updated: Aug 28
From the beginning of American Democracy, deciding who received the privilege to vote has been widely debated. Although current legislation allows for the majority of citizens to vote, there are many challenges certain voting demographics face. Commonly, unnecessary rules (poll taxes) are implemented by local and state governments - oftentimes, presented as tactics to discourage voting fraud. While this is a legitimate concern, studies show that the likelihood of voting fraud is minimal. As a result of imposed poll taxes and rules, many Americans are deterred from casting their vote; and unfortunately, this has persisted for 244 years.
In 1776, only white men aged 21 and older with land could vote in America; additionally, you couldn’t vote if you were Catholic, Jewish, or Quaker. This means that initial decision making in America was decided by an extremely narrow group of individuals. From the 1780’s to the mid 1860’s, certain states implemented legislation that allowed individuals outside of these requirements to vote. In 1868, black Americans were deemed citizens and could legally vote; however, many states attempted to strip the privilege to vote from the black community. In 1870, the 15th amendment granted free slaves and other black men the right to vote; furthermore, it was made illegal for any state to deny that right.
Although directly denying the right to vote was illegal, states came up with methods to disenfranchise certain voters. Many states imposed a poll tax which became a financial barrier to voting; however, it was unfairly regulated in order to prevent unity between black Americans and poor whites. For example, a majority of black voters were required to display their poll tax receipt, but white voters were rarely questioned. Another method to discourage voters were literacy test. These tests required black and ‘non-grandfathered’ citizens to read the state and federal regulations prior to voting. In addition to these mentioned, black people faced great danger in going to the polls. Many white men threatened black voters and -more often than not- followed through with these threats, ultimately fear-mongering black communities.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote nationwide. Votes increased by over eight million once women were allowed to vote. At City Hall in Tallahassee, voting was peacefully integrated during the 1957 election. This encouraged voter’s rights activist to demand equality in voting spaces, ultimately contributing to more welcoming voting spaces. Activist worked to eliminate poll taxes and declare them unconstitutional; they achieved this goal in 1965.
Throughout the years, voting rights have been consistently challenged and infringed upon. Activist such as John Lewis dedicated their lives for equality in voting; demanding legislation to protect low-income and minority groups at the polls; however, the fight continues. It is up to our leaders and young people to enforce the importance of voting equality, and fight until all Americans can vote without facing discrimination.