Voting rights for US citizens has had many reforms since the colonial times. During the colonial days, only adult white males, and in particular, those who owned property had the right to participate in voting. Widows in specific progressive colonies in the country also had the privilege if they owned property.
After independence, the US constitution granted states the right to decide who was eligible to vote. Since then, suffrage has been progressively extended to include many population groups. The US Constitution has also been amended severally to allow for the inclusions.
The first stage of the struggle to expand voting rights in the US constitution occurred in early 1800’s. During this time, states abolished the property ownership as well as tax payment requirements for one to attain voting rights. By 1830, these changes to property ownership requirement now allowed adult white males to vote (Burke, 1999). These changes were made in the 14th Amendment, which also gave twenty-one year old males the right to vote.
The second stage was to widen the electorate following the US Civil War. This led to the ratification of the 15th amendment in 1870. The 15th Amendment was enacted to protect any citizen from being discriminated against on the basis race or color in voting (Burke, 1999). This amendment meant that former male slaves now had the right to vote. However, African Americans still remained the major group of disenfranchised citizens among the US population.
Most African American men who had gained the right to vote before the amendment were from the southern states which included several New England States as well as New York (Burke, 1999). Not all blacks were guaranteed the right to vote by the constitutional amendment as it did not prohibit suffrage measures such as property ownership, birth requirements as well as literacy (Burke, 1999). Besides, it did not give the federal government exclusive control over suffrage.
The US 19th Amendment was enacted in 1920 to protected citizens from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. As a result, the constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.
This meant that white women of twenty one years and above could now vote. The amendment was achieved after a long struggle which include protests as well as political agitations by women suffrage supporters (suffragettes) which began in mid 1800s. It was introduced in the US Congress in 1878; however, it was ratified after more than four decades in August 1920.
In 1964, the 24rd Amendment was ratified in the US constitution. The Amendment eliminated any tax including poll tax that any citizen had to pay to qualify to vote. The poll tax had disproportionately discriminated against poor African Americans as it had required them to pay as high as $200 to qualify for voting (Goldman, 2001). This strengthened the 15th Amendment as it removed a major barrier to individual’s suffrage rights, and therefore broadened the voting population groups.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted. This extended the electorate as it now gave the Africa Americans and minorities the exclusive rights to vote. The Act banned all the racists voting practices across the US (Hudson, 1998). In addition, the Act outlawed literacy tests which had been a voting requirement. Literacy tests had been previously used to bar many uneducated African Americans after the Civil War, while applying the “reasonable interpretation” clause to allow illiterate whites to vote.
The Amendment also abolished the Grandfather clause, which had required only American citizens whose lineage or themselves, had the suffrage rights before the 15th Amendment to vote (Hudson, 1998). This clause had also barred most African Americans from voting. VRA prohibits any state from enforcing legislations which discriminately bar any population group from participating voting.
Finally, the 26th Amendment set the legal minimum voting age at 18 (Hudson, 1998). This Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. It also granted all Americans, as is provided for in the constitution, the right to vote.
This Amendment was later modified to require all elections materials to be translated to non-English speaking citizens in the US. The 1975 Amendment meant that the federal government and states had to ensure voters were provided with bilingual ballots as well as translation services especially to those who speak Native American and Eskimo languages, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
Despite the transformations which has been made in the suffrage rights, various challenges still face the fair as well as equal voting practices. Enforcement of participatory democracy has not been successful as deceptive and intimidation practices have still persisted. Intimidation practices have been used in the US electoral history to suppress votes so as to influence election results.
Such practices include violence, warnings of arrests as well as deportations should they vote in certain directions. Racial violence is still persistent in the US election processes. These are meant to suppress particular voter groups from franchising.
Voter access concerns especially on the proliferation of deceptive practices have been overlooked by the existing legislations. Individuals or groups of people have often distributed campaign messages and messages, which contain misleading as well as false information on Election Day.
Today, these practices have involved the use of the internet to propagate misinformation. Such deceptive practices could sometimes influence election results. Often, these deceptive practices target disabled, elderly, language as well as racial minorities. Such acts highly contribute to subordination and subjugation. Currently, US citizens do not have the opportunity to take legal action against people who apply deceptive acts on.
Another major concern that has not been addressed is access of voting points by the disabled and elderly. The current legislations majorly deal with fairness and equality while giving less concern to access by these minority groups. Thus they do not get equal voting opportunity.
Suffrage rights have had gradual and progressive improvements since independence to include various electorate populations. However, much has to be done to address issues of minority accessibility and the challenges brought about by technology to make it more successful.
Burke, C. M. (1999). The appearance of equality: Racial gerrymandering, Redistricting, and the Supreme Court. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Goldman, R. M. (2001). A free ballot and a fair count: The Department of Justice and the enforcement of voting rights in the south, 1877-1893. New York: Fordham University Press.
Hudson, D. M. (1998). Along racial lines: Consequences of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.