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The history of voting in the US has never been a straight line. Marginalized groups have fought tooth and nail for the right to vote; and often the groups in power have given and revoked the right when it suits their agenda.
For instance, land-owning women had the right to vote from 1776-1807 in New Jersey due to their state constitution not limiting the vote to "freemen" or "male inhabitants," instead of declaring the right to "“inhabitants,” as long as “they” — the document used that gender-neutral pronoun — could credibly declare they had property worth 50 pounds. A statute made in 1797 clarified the issue further when they updated the pronoun from "they" to "he or she." Ultimately, claims of voter-fraud, controversy over who actually met the property requirement and additional accusations of men rounding up women to vote for their preferred candidate brought about a new law that explicitly limited the right to vote in New Jersey to only white men.
Black-Americans have also had a constant uphill battle for the right to vote. From the fight to be granted citizenship, to fighting against jim crow and discriminatory voter requirements such as a voting tax, literacy tests, and violent intimidation. Jim Crow had a devastating effect on voter turnout for Black-Americans; voter turnout shifted from 79% in 1896 to 48% in 1924.
Violence and intimidation are common tactics used by white supremacists to suppress, and in one instance overthrow, the officials black voters elect. In the year 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, there was a massacre of over 60 people, following the torching of a black-owned newspaper. The newly elected local government was overthrown and replaced by white supremacists. For many years, this coup d’état was taught to North Carolina students as:
"The Democrats and most white citizens of the State feared a return to the corrupt and financially devastating rule of Republicans as had been experienced during reconstruction in the late 1860s. Waddell led white Wilmingtonians in their effort to shut down a racially inflammatory black newspaper, and then became mayor of Wilmington after the unpopular Republican regime had resigned. As mayor, ‘Waddell quickly restored sobriety and peace, demonstrating his capacity to act with courage in critical times.’ He continued in this office until 1905, leading a responsible and honest government."
The right to vote for ALL citizens to fairly vote is still being fought for; restrictive voter ID laws in states like South Carolina would keep thousands of African American voters from casting a ballot. In the 2018 election in Georgia, Brian Kemp enacted a massive voter purge that prevented 107,000 voters from hitting the polls on election day.
While this may seem like a small number of votes for a state with a population of 10.4 million, many elections are decided on even smaller margins. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was elected by a margin of 77,744 votes in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Here's a simplified timeline of who had the right to vote in the US from 1776-present:
For a more detailed timeline from the Northern California Citizenship Project: super organized and comprehensive PDF!!!
Black Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Filipino Americans, and residents of U.S. territories have historically faced discrimination at the polls, and continue to do so to this day. The fight to make voting more accessible for Americans with disabilities also continues to this day and is currently being exasperated due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Absentee voting--which in 2020's pandemic climate is more important than ever to maintain social distance and public health--wasn't enacted until 1864 to allow soldiers to vote despite being out fighting the Civil War.
Voting in America is a complicated history, and the creation of that history is filled with passionate people who protested, boycotted, starved themselves, went on strike, marched, organized, and kept on fighting despite brutal resistance for their constitutional right to vote. And we need to keep fighting. Voter suppression and voting purges still keep millions of Americans from casting their vote, and we have to keep advocating for their rights. But If you have the right, ability, and resources to vote: just go vote, idiot.
ACLU's Major moments in voting history.
OneV - "Our votes shape provide the foundation of our American democracy. All American citizens, regardless of political affiliation, should have representation in our country through their votes. One Nation Every Vote (“OneV”) shares the experiences and stories of American voters and c ommunities that honor their roles as voting citizens. OneV also offers facts and information about elections –and the history of voting in America – with the hope all Americans exercise their right to vote in local, state and federal elections."
The exclusionary nature of voting goes deep, on History.com.
NATIVE AMERICAN VOTING RIGHTS via Native American Rights Fund
FairVote is, according to their mission statement, a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.