Recently I began pondering the matter of politics which brought me to the subject of voting, particularly in Federal Elections. I puzzled over whether voting should be considered a “right” or a “privilege,” and came to no definitive conclusion. Can’t it be both?
I believe voting (in politics) is a flawed, imperfect system, though a necessary component of any democracy. It’s not always conducted fairly, aboveboard with honorable intentions. There is often corruption, and dishonest and deceptive means devised to favor one politician or another, or perhaps some odd-ball proposition or proposal.
There have been a number of changes over the years, but there are two major ones with which I’m familiar, and that I consider to be most important. These achievements were a long time coming, but finally happened in the form of amendments: 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave Blacks (men only) the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, gave women the right to vote.
Even though the 15th Amendment looked great on paper, it didn’t work out so well. Southern Democrats, resentful, bitter, and hostile, because of losing the Civil War and their slave labor, deliberately enacted a poll tax and other measures that denied African-Americans their voting rights after all.
Poll Tax was a fee to be paid when registering to vote, and it occurred mostly in former Confederate States. The practice did not officially end until 1964 with the 24th Amendment to the Constitution.
Another voter registration procedure was a ‘literacy test’ which was much more complex than just being able to write your name, and read a simple sentence or two. It was just more insults directed at African-Americans. It was a hateful, vindictive way of showing Blacks that Southerners were still in charge. Since the majority of Blacks were poor and illiterate, they couldn’t pay the poll tax, nor could they pass the literacy test. In reality then, the 15th Amendment did little or nothing to ensure their voting rights.
The ‘Radical Republicans’ from the end of the Civil War through the period of Reconstruction (mid 1870s), worked doggedly to gain civil rights for Blacks. They succeeded in securing some rights for the “freedmen,” but were constantly faced with opposition.
Republicans even passed the “Civil Rights Act of 1875” which was intended to eliminate discrimination against Black citizens. It stated that they should be treated as equals under the law, and could sue in the Federal Courts if such laws were violated.
Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, like the “Right to Vote” Amendment of 1870, did not achieve its goals. Democrats had gained even more political power and control, and made certain that the Civil Rights legislation could not be enforced. They imposed rules and regulations that made filing lawsuits practically impossible. And of course there was an ongoing need for the lawsuits; discrimination was rampant. But Blacks were very poor, worked hard for little money, and lawsuits required both time and money which they could not afford. With the many restrictions placed on every aspect of Black lives, any progress made had now been lost, along with the new voting rights.
In the early 1800s more people (white males) began to vote, but property ownership was a prerequisite. A few states did allow non-property owners to vote, though in most instances poor people (including whites) were ineligible because of the requirements. It was 1856 before all white males in every state were allowed to vote, regardless of property ownership.
From information obtained, I found that about six percent of white males voted at the time of George Washington’s presidency. A much larger number began voting after the War of 1812, and even a greater increase in the late 1820s. Often, those who voted were not only property owners, but wealthy as well. That, of course, would likely indicate that they had the interest of their community at heart, which would present a favorable requisite.
Women began struggling for their voting rights in the early 1800s, but did not achieve that milestone until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which was ratified in 1920. For years women lectured, lobbied, petitioned, and marched in protest. A few were more drastic in their tactics, even resorting to hunger strikes. And they were treated badly by their male opponents, sometimes physically abused, and even jailed.
As a citizen of the United States, I’m grateful for the freedom I have that allows me to vote. But not all U.S. citizens are allowed to do so; that applies to residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam. (I believe that’s meant for federal elections only). Citizens who are felons cannot vote, nor can non-citizen immigrants. I’m sure efforts have been under way for many years, and continue in that effort to try and eliminate those restrictions. I’m sure, too, that there’s a push for online voting, but can there ever be sufficient security measures for such a prodigious task? Sounds impossible to me, but somehow, someway, it probably will happen.
Nevertheless, who can vote and who can’t, and whether we think voting is a right or a privilege, it is absolutely necessary; and stringent measures should be used to maintain a system without manipulation, fraud, or corruption.