Now imagine you have no power to change the laws that govern your life.
American democracy is a new idea based on hope.
The new idea is self-government; the hope is that we will govern wisely.
Everything about our government, good and bad, is a result of the express and covert will of those who vote or don’t vote; if you disagree with a law on your state’s ballot, a non-vote means you agree.
If Americans don’t like a law, we can petition the government to change it or we can challenge it in the courts. If that fails, we can vote to change the law, state by state, as we are doing now with marijuana.
That’s not how American Democracy began
On June 21, 1788, when the states ratified the Constitution of the United States, states limited the vote to property-owning or tax-paying white men, or roughly 6% of over three million people. (1790 census)
Single property-owning women “worth fifty pounds” could vote in New Jersey between 1776 and 1807 before the vote was restricted to white men. In 1838, Kentucky allowed widows with school-age children to vote in school elections, and Kansas followed in 1861. (History)
At the time of the American Civil War, most states adopted universal suffrage for white men, but states used literacy tests, poll taxes, and religious tests to limit the vote.
Most people of color, and Native Americans could not vote.
Maryland excluded candidates who failed to affirm faith in an afterlife from holding public office; this law was aimed at Jews.
In 1856, North Carolina was the last state to drop property ownership as a voting requirement.
In 1860 Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and North Carolina required voters to pay taxes before casting a vote.
American women won the right to vote in 1920.
African-Americans in the South would face voter intimidation, Jim Crow laws, literacy tests and poll taxes until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by Democratic President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Supreme Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruled in 1966 to prohibit tax payment and wealth requirements for voting in state elections.
The fight to keep the right to vote continues…
As of 2018, the United States is among the most punitive nations in denying the vote to citizens convicted of a felony offense.
Arizona – Restores voting rights to first-time felony offenders. Others must petition.
Delaware – Certain crimes require a pardon for the right to vote: murder or manslaughter, an offense against public administration involving bribery or improper influence or abuse of office anywhere in the USA, or a felony sexual offense (anywhere in the USA)
Mississippi – The crimes that disqualify a person from voting as stated in Section 241 of the state constitution are murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy.
Nevada – First time and non-violent offenders may petition a court of competent jurisdiction for an order granting the restoration of his or her civil rights.
Tennessee – A person convicted of certain felonies may not regain voting rights except through pardon. These felonies include murder, rape, treason, and voting fraud.
Wyoming – As of July 1, 2003, first-time, non-violent offenders have to wait 5 years before applying to the state parole board for restoration of suffrage. The parole board has the discretion to decide whether to reinstate rights on an individual basis.
Florida –In cases of less serious crimes, disenfranchisement ends 5 years after completion of terms of incarceration, completion of parole and completion of probation. In cases of serious crimes, the wait is 7 years and the Florida Executive Clemency Board decides after receiving an application from the ex-offender. The effect of Florida’s law is such that in 2014 more than one in ten Floridians – and nearly one in four African-American Floridians – are shut out of the polls because of felony convictions.
Iowa– Voting rights can ONLY be restored through an individual petition or application to the government.
Kentucky – Only the governor can reinstate Civil Rights. The ex-offender must complete “Application for Restoration of Civil Rights”
Virginia – Only the governor can reinstate civil rights.
The United States doesn’t claim perfection: Americans are a flawed people and we make mistakes; but Americans have a history of coming together to try to govern wisely.
Let’s come together and vote in droves this year.
Rob Goldstein 2018, I do not own the images in this post