No one should have to fight to vote in modern America
Art by Tami Tedesco
For a country that boasts fair and free elections, the United States of America has an extensive history of hosting regulations preventing its citizens from participating in a democratic society. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment legally allowed black men to vote. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited gender from being a factor in letting a vote count. However, constitutional amendments only have so much effect. There are many barriers that prevent many black Americans, especially in the south, from their right to participate in a democratic government. In 1965, once the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed and officially enacted, the national fight for suffrage seemed to be over. Unfair voting regulations that disproportionately targeted black voters, such as literacy tests, were deemed unconstitutional, yet that did not prevent partisan measures from finding ways to skew elections in their respective party’s favor.
Writer Ari Berman noticed this lack of coverage of voting rights, or some people’s lack thereof, between 1965 and present-day. He took initiative on informing people about this ongoing issue by writing Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America and visiting Carnegie Mellon University on March 12. “We are in 2017, but our voting protection laws are starting to look like they’re from 1817,” Berman stated. He argued that the rise of new voting regulations, coupled with fear of voter fraud, could be a threat to democracy as we know it.
Thus far, it has been primarily Republicans being caught attempting to meddle with voting regulations. In 2010, Shelby County in Alabama filed a court case claiming the VRA, specifically Section 4(b) and 5, was unconstitutional and an instance in which federal government interfered with what should be within state boundaries. Section 4(b) defined an eligible voting district as any state or district in a state in which a voting test was held starting November 1, 1964 and had less than 50 percent turnout for the 1964 presidential election; Section 5 prohibited eligible districts, as defined in Section 4(b), from altering election laws and procedures without gaining official authorization. Ultimately, this pivotal portion of the VRA was deemed unconstitutional.
Although it may be easy to dismiss a suburban area in Alabama, it is imperative to realize this was among one of many strides made by states to silence voters. For example, it is still difficult for many citizens to acquire a form of legal identification; states limiting what they recognize as a legitimate form of identification for voting further exacerbates the problem at hand. In Texas, one can vote with a concealed-weapon permit but not with a student ID. In addition, Arizona, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio do not accept student IDs. Those who support the Republican Party are more likely to have such forms of identifications than those who support the Democratic Party.
North Carolina shows a further instance of voter suppression. The largely Republican Legislature requested data of voting preference by race, which allowed them to propose a bill that greatly reduced early voting, including several days of Sunday voting. This disproportionately affected black voters, and North Carolina exposed their intention behind the bill when explaining their bill’s effect on “counties with Sunday voting,” which were “disproportionately black...[and] disproportionately Democratic.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit saw straight through this transparent bill and denounced it as a bill that “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” thus blocking it. However, North Carolina was still successful in significantly reducing early voting.
In consideration of strides to suppress votes such as those, it is troubling, yet worth noting, that voter turnout hit a low in the 2016 presidential election. Many eligible voters were unable to do so. Although many may have not voted because of factors such as misleading poll numbers, a significant portion of this country had their voices ignored.
Where our country heads from this point forward is uncertain. As former president Barack Obama said, there have been consistent efforts to “turn back the clock [of] progress” by undermining the VRA “from the moment the ink was dry.” Although hurdles such as the Shelby County vs. Holder case has created a bar preventing many from voting, Obama calls for us to remember that “progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.” With a president in office who, through Twitter, set off conspiracies of voter fraud, it is imperative for us all to remain cognizant of our right to freedom of speech and democracy’s gift to the people — the right to cast their ballots.