114 Voting in the United States: 1776-2016
To prep for our “voting with your dollar” episode next week, VWPA tackles voting from 1776 to 2016, in the United States.
In This Episode
First Nichole walks us through the history of voting in the United States, focusing largely on federally passed legislation, and then Callie takes us into today, looking at voter suppression tactics used to influence and steal the 2016 election.
Intro from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
The basic principle that governed voting in colonial America was that voters should have a “stake in society.” Leading colonists associated democracy with disorder and mob rule, and believed that the vote should be restricted to those who owned property or paid taxes. Only these people, in their view, were committed members of the community and were sufficiently independent to vote. Each of the thirteen colonies required voters either to own a certain amount of land or personal property, or to pay a specified amount in taxes.
Many colonies imposed other restrictions on voting, including religious tests. Catholics were barred from voting in five colonies and Jews in four.
The right to vote varied widely in colonial America. In frontier areas, seventy to eighty percent of white men could vote. But in some cities, the percentage was just forty to fifty percent.
1776 – voting started off classist, racist, sexist AF
- Only land owners can vote
- Must be 21 or older
- Religious restrictions keep Catholics, Jews, Quakers, and others from voting
- mMost are white male Protestants over the age of 21
- Women are allowed to vote in New Jersey, as long as they own property
1787 – states decide who can vote
- A national agreement on voting rights can’t be reached, so each state will decide
- Stays primarily white male landowners
1789 – George Washington elected president
- Only 6% of population can vote
1790 – only white men can become citizens & vote
- The Naturalization Act of 1790 bars non-white immigrants from becoming citizens
The act restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years, in good standing, and had sworn an oath to the Constitution. In effect, it left out indentured servants, slaves, American Indians, Asian people later on, and most women
- As anti-immigrant sentiment grew in the U.S., the residency requirement was increased to five, and then 15 years
- Created due to a lack of definition for a citizen, or natural born citizen, in Constitution. When Constitution was drafted, the prevailing belief was that “one became American by choice, not by descent.” Ironic how much this would change in a few short years.
- At this same time, interestingly, 6 states did allow for free African Americans to vote (Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont)
1807 – New Jersey Bans Women From Voting
- Women will not be allowed to vote anywhere in the U.S. for the next 113 years
1812 Mass Governor redraws voting district lines
- Governor Elbridge Gerry redraws voting district lines to favor the Republican-dominated legislature against the Federalist Party
- The term “gerrymander” means the drawing of legislative district lines, usually in a bizarre and quite transparently biased manner, to give an unfair advantage to one group or political party
This is still an issue today – for instance, the 2012 election cycle in Pennsylvania saw 51% of votes cast for Democrats, and yet the Democratic Part only won 5 out of 18 seats
- The Supreme Court has ruled gerrymandering is unconstitutional, however no court has ever invalidated a redistricting plan on the basis of partisan gerrymandering. For example, there was a case in 1946, Colegrove vs Green, where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of unequal voting districts in Illinois
1828 – Last Religion Restrictions Removed
- Maryland finally enfranchised Jewish men, ending religious restrictions
1848 – Anti-Slavery & Women’s Rights Unite / Mexicans Granted Citizenship
- Women’s Rights Convention in Senaca Falls attended by Frederick Douglass, a newspaper editor and former slave, who gives a speech supporting universal voting rights. ***His speech helps convince the convention to adopt a resolution calling for women’s right to vote***
- Meanwhile, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago ends the Mexican-American War and guarantees US citizenship to Mexicans living in territories conquered by the US, however English language restrictions and violent intimidation limit voting access
1856 – Land Ownership Requirement Removed
- White dudes everywhere can vote, hurrah!
1866 Women’s Rights Splits over black women’s vote
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony form an organization for white and black women and men dedicated to the goal of universal voting rights
- The organization later divides due to disagreements in strategies to gain the vote for women and African Americans
1868 – Former Slaves Granted Citizenship
- 14th Amendment gives citizenship to former slaves
- Voters are explicitly defined as male and voting regulation is still left to each state
1870 – Vote cannot be denied because of race
- 15th Amendment passed, removing states’ rights to discriminate based on race
Soon after, some states enact measure such as voting taxes and literacy tests that restrict the ability of African Americans to register to vote. Violence and other intimidation tactics also used
- The 13th amendment, passed the same year, states ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States‘ thus providing our government with an easy way of suppressing the black vote: mass incarceration and state felony disfranchisement laws. More on this from Callie in a bit but know that some state laws are so severe that they prevent ex-felons from voting for life, resulting in approximately 5.85 million people, according to the ACLU, from voting.
1876 – Indigenous People Cannot Vote
- Supreme Court rules that Native Americans are not citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment, removing their right to vote
1882 – Chinese Cannot Be American
- The Chinese Exclusion Act bars people of Chinese ancestry from naturalizing to become US citizens
- Why? Well by 1870, Chinese people were 8.6% of the total population of California and were 25% of the labor force, allowing people’s racist bullshit to rise up.
- The Act states that “in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory…” = racist bullshit, see?
1887 – Assimilation = Right to Vote
- Dawes Act allows citizenship for Native Americans who give up their tribal affiliations
1919 – Military Service = Citizenship for Native Americans (WWI)
1920 – Right to Vote Extended to Women
- 19th Amendment passes giving WHITE women the right to vote
1922 – Japanese cannot be citizens
- Supreme Court rules people of Japanese Heritage are ineligible to become naturalised citizens, ruling eligibility is limited to “free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.”
1923 “High caste Hindus” not citizens
- Supreme Court rules that “high caste Hindus” from India do not qualify for citizenship because they do not qualify as white under naturalization law
1924 Native Americans given citizenship
- The Indian Citizenship Act declares all non-citizen Indians citizens, giving them the right to vote
- However, many Native Americans are effectively barred from voting for many more years
1925 – Filipinos must serve to be citizens
- Congress blocks Filipinos from US citizenship unless they have served three years in the Navy
1943 Chinese Exclusion Act Repealed
1947 – Legal Barriers to Native American voting removed
- Miguel Trujillo, a Native American and former Marine, wins a lawsuit against New Mexico for not allowing him to vote
1952 – People with Asian ancestry can vote
- McCarran-Walter Act grants all first generation people of asian ancestry right to vote
1964 – No tax required to vote
- 24th Amendment removes restrictions against voting due to failure to pay any tax
1965 – Voting Rights Act Passed
- It forbids states from imposing discriminatory restrictions on who can vote, and provides mechanisms for the federal government to enforce its provisions
1971 – Voting age lowered to 18
- Those old enough to serve in the military should be old enough to vote, as a reaction to the Vietnam War protesters’ demands
1975 – Voting Materials made available in various languages
1993 – Voting Registration made easier
- National Voter Registration Act passed, making registration available at the DMV and public assistance and disabilities agencies
2000 – Residents of US colonies can’t vote
- A month before the presidential election, a federal court decides Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are US citizens but cannot vote for US president.
- This is includes all residents of US territories including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and US Virgin Islands
- This is nearly 4.1 million people total who cannot vote in presidential elections and do not have voting representation in the US Congress
- Between this and the state felony disfranchisement laws, we have roughly 10 million citizens of the U.S. that are prevented from voting outright
2002 – Massive Voting Reform
- Help America Vote Act passed in response to disputed 200 presidential election of George Dubya
This reform requires states to comply with federal mandates for provisional ballots, disability access, centralized computerized voting lists, electronic voting and the requirement that first time voters present identification before voting
NOTE: There were too many examples to include, since so many things happened on state levels, but there were COUNTLESS instances of state legislation passed to revoke rights of people of color to vote. One example, in 1896 Louisiana, legislators adopted a “grandfather clause” that effectively dropped the percentage of black (male) voters from 44.8% to 4.0% in four short years through literacy and property ownership requirements. Similar actions happened in Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia around the same time.
It is important to note this, as we move into our discussion of how voting works today, that though voting can be legal for people, it is not always actually available.
2016 Election and Current Laws/Practices
It’s important to understand that there are still many, many ways that voters are manipulated or suppressed in current elections, up-to and especially including the most recent presidential in 2016 when the Koch Brothers, Paul Singer and John Paulson, specifically, stole the election for Donald Trump.
US Without A Functioning Voting Rights Act
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By overturning Section 5 of the landmark civil right law — a provision that required states with a history of discrimination to get pre-approval of voting changes — the court opened the floodgates for states to pass voter suppression measures.
In the years since that decision, dozens of states have enacted new laws making it harder to vote. The 2016 election is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
— The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution
President Obama — in an address to the NAACP’s 106th National Convention — that “the United States is home to home to five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.”
Florida, Iowa and Virginia permanently disenfranchise felons/ex-felons.
“The state has no automatic process for former felons to regain their voting rights. Instead, people have to travel to the state capital and proactively request that the governor grant them clemency on an individual basis.
In total, roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (almost 2.5 percent of the state’s population) are disenfranchised because of the law, which white lawmakers designed in the years after the Civil War in a deliberate attempt to dilute the voting power of freed slaves. This year, one in four of Florida’s black residents could not cast a ballot.”
Impacts: students, the poor, people of color, the elderly.
A lot of us with IDs don’t know what a burden it is.
“A federal court in Texas found that 608,470 registered voters don’t have the forms of identification that the state now requires for voting. For example, residents can vote with their concealed-carry handgun licenses but not their state-issued student university IDs”
“Across the country, about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.”
“A recent voter-ID study by political scientists at the University of California at San Diego analyzed turnout in elections between 2008 and 2012 and found “substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws.”
“In the final weeks leading up to the election, voting rights groups discovered that Wisconsin officials at local DMV offices were giving false information to voters attempting to get the proper ID, putting those officials in violation of a federal court order.”
ACLU – VOTER ID REQUIREMENTS ARE A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM
In-person fraud is vanishingly rare. A recent study found that, since 2000, there were only 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation – the only type of fraud that photo IDs could prevent – during a period of time in which over 1 billion ballots were cast.
“By creatively redrawing electoral districts, politicians and parties can disenfranchise their opposition, ensuring that those votes ultimately don’t count. For instance: if you take a swing district and redraw the lines so a lot of the Republicans are in a neighboring, mostly Democrat district, it might not be a swing district anymore.”
“The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It’s the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina.”
Spoilage, Caging, Interstate Crosscheck Program
For this section, we got a lot of information from the documentary The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. It is only available to watch by paying to rent or buy it online, but the two interviews linked below give a good idea of the concepts we address in the episode around the Interstate Crosscheck Program, spoilage, caging, and other tactics used in voter suppression.
Links and Information
- Guatemala Passes Groundbreaking Anti-Cruelty Laws (VegNews)
- Neanderthal Dental Tartar Reveals Plant-Based Diet and Drugs (The Guardian)
- Tyson Foods CEO: Future Food Might be Meatless (Fox Business)
Timeline Resources Referenced
- Interactive Timeline: Who got the right to vote when? (Aljazeera)
- Voting Act Rights Timeline (ACLU)
- US Voting Rights Timeline (KQED.org)
- Winning the Vote: A History of Voting Rights (Gilderlehrman.org)
Mentioned in this Episode
- Spotify Playlist! Add your favorite music to share and listen to what your peers are lovin’!
- RADDISH: Atlanta, GA hunger relief project that works with largely LGBTQIA+ youth. Please check them out!