I joined the JFK library’s conference about the 19th Amendment and voting rights today. This conference was held in commemoration of 100 years since the 19th amendment was passed. The history of the suffrage movement and talked a little bit about how we continue to be faced with voting rights issues today was discussed in great detail. I am much more interested in the issues with voting rights that we face today, so I wanted to do more research on that. I think voting rights are a big problem currently, but people may not acknowledge them as much because it does not usually affect policy makers and it can actually benefit them. I believe that voter suppression is still be a huge issue even after the passing of the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 19th Amendment
With the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, citizens of the United States could not be denied their right to vote based on sex. The passing of the 19th Amendment was not mean the end of women’s suffrage. The professors that spoke in the conference refer to the passing of the 19th Amendment as “the middle of an ongoing story, not the end.” They compare the suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, in the terms that both are ongoing and we are continuing to fight for equal rights in both causes. Women were still disenfranchised by age requirements, citizenship and residency requirements, as well as mental competence standards that were tilted against them. In 1920, American women could lose citizenship if they married non-Americans. There were many requirements in place that seemed to be in effect just so that women’s right to vote can be taken away.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Shelby County v. Holder
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting, banned poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures that many Southern states adopted after the Civil War. This act included a provision that required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal approval before they were allowed to change their voting laws. In 2013, this provision was struck down because the landmark decision in Shelby County v. Holder found it to be unconstitutional. The “pre-clearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act was stripped because it was based on data that was over 40 years old, and was thought to no longer be responsive to current needs. With the removal of this provision, there is now nothing that stops states from passing new voting laws.
Voter Suppression and Disenfranchisement Today
After the Shelby case, many states closed polling locations in predominantly black and latino communities in an attempt to suppress the vote of these minorities. Texas and Georgia were the states that led the way in this practice. Following the election of Obama, 20 states adopted new restrictions on the right to vote. During the Jim Crow era, poll taxes were used to keep black and low-income people from voting. Today, Republican officials in Florida are taking away convicted felons’ right to vote until they pay all associated court fines and fees. Then, literacy tests were used to keep black people from voting. Today, subjectivity is built into the process due to overly complicated requirements for casting absentee ballots.
Today, there is some form of felony disenfranchisement in every state except Maine, Vermont and Washington D.C. As of 2016, felony disenfranchisement prevented more than 6 million adults from voting. In 1976 it prevented about 1 million from voting and in 1996 it was a little over 3 million. Black people are affected by felony disenfranchisement at a rate more than 4 times greater than white people are. The 11 most extreme states restrict voting rights even after individuals have served their prison sentences and are off of probation or parole. The impacted people in these states constitute over 50 percent of the total number of people who are disenfranchised. Approximately 3.1 million people are disenfranchised because of state laws that continue to restrict voting rights after completion of sentences. I do not find any issue with felons being able to vote after they have completed their sentences, as well as after they are off of parole or probation. The argument for felons being disenfranchised has to do with the fact that they have broken the social contract, but I think that if they have done successfully completed their sentence, they should be able to participate in voting, as the outcome of elections does affect them. Perhaps there could be a process for felons to participate in that would allow them to earn back their right to vote upon completion. I think that these voting rights issues need to become more well known by the general population and the fight for voting rights needs to continue. Obama made a statement in a eulogy for Senator John Lewis, whose activism led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that I think is very appropriate here. He said, “We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power that are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting.”
“ACLU News & Commentary.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020/.
CBS News. “Americans and the Right to Vote: Why It’s Not Easy for Everyone to Cast a Ballot.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 17 Aug. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/voting-rights-americans-cast-ballot-ease/.
DeRienzo, Matt, et al. “Analysis: Voter Suppression Never Went Away. The Tactics Just Changed.” Center for Public Integrity, publicintegrity.org/politics/elections/ballotboxbarriers/analysis-voter-suppression-never-went-away-tactics-changed/.
JFK Library, director. Expanding Democracy: The 19th Amendment and Voting Rights Today. 28 Oct. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QR7Iqp3-GE.
Waxman, Olivia B. “Myths About the 19th Amendment and Women’s Suffrage Debunked.” Time, Time, 18 Aug. 2020, time.com/5879346/19th-amendment-facts-myths/.