Have you ever thought about why we vote, or how the whole process even works? Boomer has done some research to help make it easier to understand!
The U.S. Constitution established our country as a democracy and defines how it shall run. Although our democracy is not perfect, the freedom to choose who leads us—the right to vote—is one of our most important freedoms.
While ours is not the only democratic country, many people around the world do not have this key freedom. It is important to know that while just about every adult American is entitled to vote, that has not always been the case here in the United States.
Who gets to vote and even the voting age has evolved, and Bear Essential News goes over some of the most important changes that make it so more U.S. citizens can vote.
Voting for the President
Although the seemingly endless TV ads tell us who to vote for, we actually do not vote for president—at least not directly. When voters cast their ballot (election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3), they actually will elect other people to vote for them! This group that votes for president is called the electoral college.
National elections draw millions of voters compared to local elections. This national presidential election is really a separate election in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Every state gets electoral votes according to how many seats they have in the House of Representatives plus the Senate. That makes 538 people in the electoral college overall.
When we vote for president we are choosing which party gets the most votes in our state. Arizona, like most states, gives all its electors to whichever presidential ticket gets the most popular votes. Nebraska and Maine choose two electors by statewide popular vote and the rest by popular vote within each of its congressional districts.
The electoral college then votes for president and vice president with each elector casting one vote. The candidate who gets more than half of the electoral votes becomes president. The president will be INAUGURATED on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.
But if no candidate gets a majority of the electoral votes (at least 270), then Congress votes to choose the winners, with the House of Representatives getting one vote per state to select the next president, and the Senate voting in the new vice president!
Major Events in American Voting
The first national election was held over weeks from Dec. 1788 to Jan. 1789. George Washington won this quadrennial election (happening every four years) and was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.
Amendments are a way of making changes to the U.S. Constitution. On Feb. 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment, which made it unconstitutional to deny citizens the right to vote based on their race, was ratified by Congress, and later affirmed by the states. This was only the beginning of giving Black Americans the right to vote since many laws and voter restrictions were still in place. While the Constitution legally opened the voting booth to Black men, they still had obstacles to clear to cast their votes. Some states kept Black Americans from voting using poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow laws and intimidation.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which made it unconstitutional to deny a person their voting rights based on their sex. It took decades of campaigning for women in this country to get the right to vote. Read on to learn more about the CENTENNIAL of the 19th Amendment.
Not Everyone Could Vote
Unfortunately, the 15th Amendment did not give Native Americans the right to vote—they were not recognized as U.S. citizens at the time. Despite Native Americans being granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, many of them still were not allowed to vote, including here in Arizona! That changed with an Arizona Supreme Court ruling in 1948.
“It has ever been one of the great responsibilities of supreme courts to protect the civil rights of the American people of whatever race or nationality, against encroachment,” wrote Judge Levi Udall.
A New Mexico court had a similar ruling later that year. Native Americans had to fight for their rights state by state. Utah was the last state to guarantee Native American voting rights in 1962.
Before the 24th Amendment was ratified on Jan. 23, 1964, some states required voters to pay poll taxes in order to be able to vote in federal elections. Charging such fees was deemed unconstitutional—it unfairly prevented poorer citizens, which often included Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans from voting.
Coming about from the Civil Rights protests and campaigning of the 1960s, the Voting Acts Right of 1965 made several state voting restrictions illegal. Many of these state laws, many in Southern states, were meant to keep certain racial groups from being able to vote. By 1966 a quarter-million new Black voters had registered to vote! A year later, only four of 13 Southern states still had less than half of their eligible Black population registered to vote.
The 26th Amendment, ratified by Congress on July 1, 1971, changed the legal voting age from 21 to 18. This amendment passed easily—the logic being that if a person at 18 was old enough to be drafted in order to fight for the country, that person ought to be able to vote, too!
2020 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that reasonable accommodations be made (including at polling places where you cast your vote) for people with disabilities.
Our democracy still has a ways to go before voting is truly representative of the American population. We need to continue moving forward, keep fairness in mind and encourage those eligible to step up and vote.
Women in America Get the Vote
For American women, the right to vote came one century ago. The 19th Amendment was RATIFIED on Aug. 26, 1920. It decreed that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Before the 19th Amendment, American women spent decades protesting and demanding the vote. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were activists for women’s voting rights, or women’s suffrage, starting in the mid 1800’s in America. Suffrage comes from the Latin word suffragium, meaning a vote or a right to vote.
Anthony voted illegally in 1862 and was arrested, tried in court and fined $100. She continued to advocate for women’s suffrage, but Anthony died in 1906 so she was never legally able to cast her vote.
In January 1917, women started picketing outside the White House to urge President Woodrow Wilson to support an amendment to allow women the vote. The protesters stood outside the White House gates with their signs and banners, but without speaking and so earned the name the Silent Sentinels. These women waged their silent protest for almost two years. Hundreds were arrested and jailed, some were beaten and some went on hunger strikes.
Congress passed the 19th Amendment in June 1919, but it needed to be ratified by three-fourths of the states to become law. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment on Aug 18, 1920. It was certified on Aug 26, and so became the law of the land.
In some U.S. territories and states, women were able to vote and hold elected office before the passage of the 19th amendment. Women in Arizona gained the right to vote in November 1912. One of the leaders of the state’s suffrage movement, Frances Willard Munds, was also the first woman elected to the Arizona Senate in 1914. When it came time to ratify the 19th Amendment and give other American women the right to vote, four Arizona women in the state legislature sponsored the resolution to pass the amendment.