The history of voting in America is very messy. It can also be perceived as racist, sexist and shamefully ignorant. However, it could be written off that the characteristics were just a sign of the times. After all, the situation can be viewed as better now, so the past must not matter. This would be an easy way to shrug off the responsibility that history bears with it, but instead we could take culpability for our country’s wrongdoings. The ability to vote is the strongest tool there is in a democracy. Being able to change the leadership of not only a country, but a community is a luxury many other nations do not share. That is why it’s so important to vote.
Independence and sovereignty
On July 4, 1776, the United States of America severed their ties with Great Britain to create a nation in which “all men are created equal.” This was a promise that not only lacked 50 percent of the population, but in many ways can still be seen as untrue to this day. Regardless, this was known as “The American Experiment.” It created a nation of states, unified under one government that was born from fighting tyranny.
Early inequality for enslaved African-American
Despite constitutionally having the same rights, it would be a long time before black people and other races shared equal civil liberties with their white counterparts.
In 1787, the three-fifths compromise decided that 3/5 of a state’s slave population vote will be counted in a half-hearted attempt to fix the “all men are created equal” paradox that came with slavery. The 14th Amendment was passed in 1866 and granted anyone born on American soil citizenship and the basic rights that come with it. This included slaves, but despite this, their vote was still only worth 3/5 of a free man’s. To remedy this issue, the 15th Amendment was passed in 1869. It claimed that voting rights would not be denied on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. This was a large step, meaning a slave’s vote finally saw the same worth as a free man. However, slavery still existed and this right was yet to be extended to women. In fact, the practice was not abolished until Jan. 31, 1865, 89 years after the country’s inception and claim for equality.
Making the feminine voice heard
Females were also impacted by the early discrimination involved with voting. In fact, they would not be given the right to vote until 1920, 144 years after the country’s birth and succession from Britain. This right was given sporadically across the nation previously, but wouldn’t be written as an official 19th Amendment of the constitution until that point in time. With this amendment passed, it was now true that anyone born in the United States would be given the right to vote when they come of age. Everyone was finally equal, sovereign and had the ability to voice their opinions in the land of the free.
Today’s voting trends
Democracy is an entirely different scene today. This event from the 138 million people that voted in the 2016 election. Yet, this was only 58.1 percent of the United States eligible voting population according to PennState University. This particular election has often been cited as the most important election in our lifetime and yet, only slightly more than half of the country took part in it. For that reason and the perilous journey, it took to get here, it’s important to take advantage of the right that so many others fought and died for in those early days.
As a nation of sovereign individuals, we shouldn’t take their sacrifice for granted, especially when we no longer need to fight for our inherent right granted by the Constitution. Every vote matters, so make sure yours does too.
For a more thorough view of voting history in the United States, please visit: scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/history-voting/.
To register to vote in Michigan, please visit: vote.org/register-to-vote/michigan/.
Michigan allows Same Day registration which means after signing up, you can directly cast a ballot on the very same day. To cast a ballot, please visit: voteforyourlife.com/.
Photo Courtesy of Element5 Digital