As America prepares for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States, it is interesting to look back in history at how the political voting system here has evolved – particularly with regards to the voting rights of Native Americans, African Americans and women. How much has actually changed?
When George Washington won the first ever United States presidential election in January 1789, the only people permitted to vote were adult, white males who owned property (usually meaning some kind of land) – and while this reflected the thinking of the time, it surprised me greatly to find out during my research for this post, that voting rights and restrictions placed on Native Americans, African Americans and women were only recently outlawed (I say recently because some of these restrictions are within the memory and experience of people alive today).
African American Right to Vote
The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in February 1870, gave the right to vote to African American males, and while this was all part of the freedom from slavery from the earlier Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that restrictions on African American voters, on a local and state level, were outlawed.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act sought to eliminate practices such as literacy tests, poll tax fees and white only primaries, for example, that were used to stop black voters (mainly in the south) from being able to vote. These discriminatory practices were not only used against African Americans though …
Native American Right to Vote
As outrageous as it may seem, Native Americans were not given citizenship by birth to the United States until Congress passed the ‘Indian Citizenship Act’ in 1924 – but even after being legally recognised as citizens, it was not until 1948 that laws banning Natives from voting were overturned.
The right to vote, as granted in 1948, did not stop restrictions being put in place in many states … Utah, for example, did not recognise as residents of the state, those Native Americans that lived on reservations. It was not until 1957 that this legislation was repealed.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act, as mentioned before, aimed to also overturn discriminatory practises towards Native Americans (they also encountered literacy tests and the like).
Women’s Right to Vote
Women gained the right to vote in the United States in 1920, a great moment for Women’s Suffrage, but as outlined previously, some women, particularly those who are/where African or Native American, would have still faced great struggles to be able to vote and participate in their political rights, in some instances, only as recently as the 1960s.
Being able to vote is a vital part of being in a democracy, and part of the role of the people is to stand up and be a voice for positive change where rights are being restricted – in 2015 in Texas, for example, a federal appeals panel ruled that voting I.D. laws put in place in 2011 violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and discriminated against African and Hispanic Americans.
Watching and learning about voting in this latest presidential election has been an interesting experience as there seems to have been a political movement for change, which was resoundingly heard, somewhat unexpectedly as the exit polls had the outcome going in Hilary Clinton’s favour, so will there be a movement to ensure voter restriction laws are no longer something even put in place? Generally, if you look through history, that answer seems to be ‘yes’ – but the fact that in 2017 this is an ongoing issue seems to be a reflection on how slowly change comes about. What are your thoughts?