October 28, 2020
by Rachel Jones
This November 3rd is election day. The history of voting in this country is complex and some communities still are underrepresented in national political forums. Voter suppression, voter intimidation, and obstacles to voting still prevent people from going to the polls.
This time of year, it’s important to remember that the right to vote, for many of us, was hard won. Civil rights advocates and Suffragettes fought so women and Black communities were able to participate in democratic elections and have a say in the people who represent them.
Below are some voting resources about this election cycle as well as some reminders of historic voting milestones and resources to learn more about the history of voting rights in America.
Voting in New York is Happening Now
For the first time, NYC is offering early voting. You can vote early today through Sunday or vote on election day, November 3rd. Confirm that you are a registered voter and to verify your polling place.
The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) has a Student Voter Helpline which will run from 6am-9pm on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd. Student voters can call their Helpline at (212) 822-0282 and trained professionals and lawyers will help answer questions about where their poll site is, their voter eligibility, what to expect at the polls, or what to do if their right to vote is challenged.
The right to vote (also known as suffrage) is a fundamental part of our democracy. But from the founding of the United States, different groups have been excluded from the voting process. At one point, women, people of color, and immigrants could not vote. People without money, property, or education were also barred from voting. Men held legal power over women, whites held legal power over nonwhites. Many Americans had no political power and no influence over the laws that affected their lives.
As a result of many hard-won battles, voting today is more inclusive. The following timeline, of voting milestones during U.S. history, is a reminder of those in the past who fought for the rights we now have.
1788: The U.S. Constitution is ratified. It allowed states to determine who could vote. Most states gave voting rights to white, land-owning men only; some states also require voters to be Christian. Only a small minority of white males qualify.
1867-1965: Voting Rights for African Americans
The 14th Amendment, passed in 1867, required all states to recognize all males born in the U.S. as full voting citizens regardless of race. The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, gives the right to vote to all men, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Southern states then used intimidation and other tactics—such as poll taxes and literacy tests—until they made it impossible for African American men to vote.
These intimidation tactics remained in place for decades, until the 1960s, when the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement focused their efforts on voting rights. In response, many states began to publicly and violently intimidate African Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others organized marches and rallies for voting rights. After the American public witnessed the violent suppression of these actions, public opinion began to change. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Johnson, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement at his side. The Voting Rights Act enforced the 15th Amendment by making voter intimidation and legal obstacles, such as literacy tests, against federal law.
1848-1920: Voting Rights for Women
The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, during which activists demanded that women be granted all rights as full citizens including the right to vote. For the next 72 years, women—and some men—protested, marched, and engaged in civil-disobedience for the right to vote. They braved beatings, jail, and other abuses for demanding full citizenship. In 1890 Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote, and soon more states followed suit. In 1919, the suffrage movement finally gained enough support that Congress passed the 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
1790-1924: Voting Rights for Native Americans
In 1790, U.S. citizenship was limited to “whites” only. This meant that Native-Americans could not be citizens so they could not vote. Native Americans had to fight for many years before they gained full U.S. citizenship and legal protection of their voting rights with the Snyder Act of 1924. It still took another 40 years for all states to allow Native Americans to vote.
1971: Voting Rights for Youth
A long debate over lowering the voting age began during World War II and intensified during the Vietnam War, when young men denied the right to vote were being conscripted to fight for their country. The 26th Amendment is passed by Congress lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971.
1974: Voting Rights for Non-English Speakers
Congress expands the Voting Rights Act in 1974 to protect the voting rights of those people who do not speak or read English. Voting materials and assistance in languages other than English now have to be provided wherever needed.
During voting season, it is worth remembering those who fought for the rights we now enjoy. Let’s honor their hard won victories and their many sacrifices.