Note: Today’s blog is about the evolution of voting rights in America. There will be generalizations made in the interest of keeping the blog to an easily readable length and to avoid citing various legal cases (although I’ve always thought that that the “XXXX v. XXXX” case description is cool). I am aware that the states have the right to grant or deny the right to vote to its residents based on parameters set by each state. For instance, if you are a convicted felon who has served a sentence and is now free, some states will restore your right to vote and others will not. With 50 states in the union that have their own voting protocols, I'm trying to keep it simple. Feel free to do your own investigating (after you read the blog, of course...)
As we go to the polls on Tuesday, there are only two eligibility requirements mandated by the U.S. government – that a voter be a U.S. citizen who is currently a resident of the United States and that the voter was born on or before November 6, 1994.
Voting rights have not always been so straightforward. In fact, it’s taken five amendments to the U.S. Constitution – dating from 1868 to 1971 - to establish those seemingly simple parameters.
For almost 100 years, the majority of qualified voters were white male landowners who paid taxes. (Free black men had initially been allowed to vote but their voting rights dwindled as the race/slavery question gained momentum through the first half of the 1800s. ) In July 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. This action gave male citizens age 21 and older the right to vote in national elections.
Less than a year later, the 15th Amendment was made law of the land. It guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied because of race, color or previous condition of servitude. This directly answered the question of whether or not black men who had previously been slaves could vote.
|Library of Congress file graphic|
It took another 51 years for women to gain the right to vote - the 20th Amendment was ratified in August, 1920.
|Library of Congress file photo|
44 years later, in January 1964, the 24th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote even if the citizen had not paid poll or other taxes. Up until 1964, five Southern states still demanded that each voter pay a “poll tax” before being allowed to vote in any election. This policy was a throwback to the days of post-Civil War Reconstruction; it was designed to make it difficult for black men to vote.
|Poll tax receipt from California (1905)|
The most recent Constitutional amendment related to voting was the 26th, which was ratified in July 1971. Popular opinion was that this was an attempt to make things more equal for the young men who were being drafted at age 18 to fight in the Vietnam War. They were in effect old enough to fight, but not old enough to vote, the voting age being 21 at that point. This amendment took the shortest time for the required number of states to ratify: 3 months and 10 days.
|Carrying a wounded buddy to the Huey (Vietnam) - Library of Congress file photo|
It’s easy to breezily go through the list of voting-related amendments. However, what needs to be kept in mind for these and ALL constitutional amendments is that presenting them, having Congress vote on them and then having them ratified by the required three-quarters of existing states was never a slam dunk. Except for one - the repeal of Prohibition, which was decided in state constitutional conventions - each amendment had to be voted on by state legislatures whose members can be a partisan, contentious lot.
So…as you go to the free polls to vote on Tuesday, take a moment to appreciate the work that went into creating the laws that allow you to vote as a citizen of this country no matter your gender, color or race. You might also want to quietly remember the hundreds of thousands of military personnel - like the Tuskegee Airmen - who have fought and died to keep America’s freedoms and rights intact.
This weekend marks the last air show of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s 2012 season! It’s a free show at Homestead Army Reserve Base in Homestead, Florida. Hours are 8 to 5 both Saturday and Sunday, and the Mustang is scheduled to fly an acrobatic routine in the performance portion of the show.It’s been a great year for the Squadron’s educational mission. Next week’s blog will be a recap of where we went, what we did, and the folks we met.
Countdown to the election: 4 days
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.