The United States of America is often regarded as the ideal of universal suffrage by other countries around the world. However, many American politicians and activists still argue that there is still room for changes in some vital areas of the government’s core units.
The Constitutional rights on voting are indeed one of those sectors that have been accorded great concern in the U.S. history (Donald, 1998). As it would be observed, the U.S. Constitution guarantees for overall protection of peoples’ liberties, which are executed through the guideline and requirement of the Bill of Rights.
The fundamental right of taking part in the voting exercise, as we all know, offers every American citizen the opportunity to actively take part in the republican form of government within the states. Definite triumphs are common in the United States nowadays owing to the big concerns that are currently addressed to the overall civil and voting rights.
This paper provides an in-depth outline of the history of the voting rights in the U.S. in regard with Constitutional amendments that have been witnessed so far in the sector. More importantly, some of the major challenges to equal and fair voting facing the country at state, federal, and local elections are also discussed in this essay.
The issue regarding the provision of civil rights protecting people from the interference of government as well as the provision of those civil rights which guarantees people equal participation in a democratic world has always been a matter of concern to many political scholars and activists.
The American voting rights has been a contentious issue in the country’s past. Eligibility to take part in the voting exercise can be determined by both state and Federal law and presently, only citizens are eligible to vote in America. This however, has not always been the case.
When the U.S. finally achieved its independence in 1776, only one category of people; white, property-owning males would enjoy a massive voice in the government (Bickel, 1966). The franchise was denied to women and all other people of color in the states.
This would actually raise much concern as people started realizing the value of the lacking freedom and slowly, a steady march towards attaining freedom and justice for everyone would begin resulting into major amendments that would see other citizens taking part in the significant exercise.
The 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution was passed in the year 1886, offering the right of citizenship to former slaves and changing them to whole persons of the country (Dinnerstein and Reimers, 1975).
Come in 1869, the 15th Amendment was passed allowing the black men to take part in the voting practice. However, most women of all races were still unable to play a role in the exercise. 1869 would also mark the beginning of another era known as ‘Black Codes’ which placed a restriction on the rights and freedom of African Americans in various sectors, among them the freedom to exercise their right to vote.
Restriction strategies such as poll taxes, literary tests, economic pressures and threat of physical violence intended to suppress these categories from voting were observed to be common within the Black Codes. This however, was a short-lived practice in the changing world of the U.S. politics and with time, the Constitution would successfully make voting in the U.S. an exercise for all.
Initiatives to promote the role of women in the voting exercise can be traced back to the 1770s through the early 1800s. Various conventions and movements advocating for women rights would take place and come in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution would accord women the freedom to take part in the U.S. voting exercise.
Some interim changes to immigration and naturalization laws in 1940s and 1950s would also open the practice to some categories but not every Asian Pacific American. The final barriers to minority voting rights in the U.S. ultimately came in the year 1965, following the enactment of the legislation that did not only enforce the 15th Amendment but that would enact a countrywide prohibition on aspects limiting voting rights for minorities across the states.
However, regardless of these significant amendments, the American youth still lacked the right to vote and it was not until the passage of the 26th Amendment in July, 1971 when they were able to do so following the reduction of the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 years of age. Today, the American youth just like anybody else have the right to fully appreciate both their duty and right to elect their leaders and representatives in the government (Fowler, 2007).
However, no matter these significant federal legislation and amendments in the U.S. Constitution on the voting rights, there are still some notable challenges to equal and fair execution of the exercise. Among the major challenges is the race/gender issue whereby elective positions, entitlements and other benefits come with one’s status and culture in the class-divided society of America.
Unequal and unfair voting practice in the modern U.S. is also likely to result from various attitudes directed towards diverse population where immigrants have limited rights or even no rights at all compared to genuine American citizens.
Another big challenge here is that, many people would be opposed to any form of affirmative action simply for their belief that it is likely to violate a sense of fairness. These are some of the drawbacks facing fair and equal voting in modern U.S. and this is the time for strong affirmative actions to be undertaken towards correcting such inequalities, for a better America.
Bickel, A. (1966). The Voting Rights Cases. The Supreme Court Review, 1966 (67), 79-102.
Dinnerstein, L. and Reimers, D. (1975). Ethnic Americans: A history of immigration and assimilation. History: Reviews of New Books, 4 (1), 17-17.
Donald, G. (1998). An Introduction to Arizona History and Government. 6th Ed. New York: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Fowler, K. (2007). Deceptive Voting Practices and Voter Intimidation in the Wake of United States v. Charleston County. Charleston L. Rev, 2 (17), 733.