We The People: How Voting Rights Evolved From 1776 To 2020

By: Dustin Petridge | Lifestyle Editor

OPINION

Since the United States wrested control of the country from Great Britain in 1776, the right to vote has been a heavily contested and hard-fought battle, with each amendment bringing citizens closer to that right for 200 years.

With the power to elect the United States’ executive officer in the hands of the general public, it is important to know how this has been delivered to the people over time and why it matters. 

Upon the Constitution, signed in 1789, who received the right to vote was determined by individual states, most of which limited this right exclusively to property-owning or tax-paying white men, a very small percentage of the population at the time. 

During the Reconstruction era, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, granting the right to vote to any man without regard to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 

However, this decision was quickly circumvented by many former-Confederate states that implemented Jim Crow laws and discriminatory voting tests, essentially laying the groundwork for institutional racism into the 20th century. 

After many progressive pushes and a gauntlet of denied votes, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920. 

In 1971, a monumental decision that lowered the voting age to 18 coincided with the ongoing Vietnam War by opening the door to millions more younger citizens to vote. 

In the most recent decades since 1971, major disputes over restoring voting rights to those convicted of a felony took center stage to determine who can vote and open a conversation on new forms of discrimination, this time against former convicted criminals. 

Long debated since the inception of the Constitution, the right to vote is an essential component of living in the United States and enjoying the benefits of democracy as envisioned by the founding fathers. 

As progress is always necessary for this freedom’s continuity, caution is also essential to prevent election fraud with any party and abroad, a more contemporary issue affecting the presidential elections. 

Today, the right to vote is arguably more important than any other time in history, seeing how the country is more diverse than it has ever been, bringing many viewpoints, new and old, to the table. To protect our beliefs as part of a democracy, we must understand the beginning to know the path forward.

Graphic courtesy of aclu.org