WHAT IT IS
- The original U.S. Constitution did not list voting as an unalienable right for all U.S. citizens. [Library of Congress]
- The Founding Fathers did not trust a direct democracy nor the general public with the right to vote. [Library of Congress]
- The Framers left it up to the states to decide who could vote. [Bill of Rights Institute]
- A common practice throughout the states was to limit or suppress voting by granting voting rights to only white, male property-owners. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution
"The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations."
WHY IT MATTERS
SOCIAL: At the time of George Washington's election, only 6% of the population could vote. [KQED] The right of all Americans to vote was fought for by activists and citizens across decades of civic engagement.
CIVICS: The U.S. Constitution was designed by the Founding Fathers to be firm yet flexible, a power granted to Congress and the states to amend the constitution - Article V. It took 5 amendments (15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, 26th) to constitutionally end voter disenfranchisement and cement every American citizen's right to vote. The fight to protect that right still continues to this day.
The 19th Amendment and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 are seen as two cornerstone pieces for advancing voters' rights.
What does it do?
The 19th Amendment guaranteed women's right to vote. It protects all citizens from disenfranchisement on the basis of sex.
"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." [National Constitution Center]
How did we get here?
Activists of the Woman's Suffrage Movement lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution. [National Archives]
Good to know
1. It is important to note the experience of intersectionality in this historical moment.
After the ratification of the 19th amendment, states sought to disenfranchise Black women and women of color with many of those efforts successful. [American Civil Liberties Union]
2. The fight for women's right to vote continues. Read more about today's fight from National Geographic.
VOTING RIGHTS ACT
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. [HISTORY]
What does it do?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to end legal barriers (largely known as Jim Crow) at the state and local levels that disenfranchised Black Americans.
The Voting Rights Act is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in the U.S. [HISTORY]
How did we get here?
Activists of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s used nonviolent, integrationist tactics to demand racial justice.
“... all Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race.” -President Johnson
Good to know
- After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment (1870) prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” [HISTORY] Further legislative action was required to ensure the voting rights of Black Americans.
- 2013: The Supreme Court "gutted" the Voting Rights Act. Learn more about the ruling.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- July 28, 2006: President George W. Bush resigned The Voting Rights Act, extending it for another 25 years. Activists called for more resources to help enforce voter protections. [The Los Angeles Times]
- June 25, 2013: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a key formula in the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down the provision for states and localities with a history of discriminatory practices to have all changes to election laws and procedures cleared by the federal government. [Oyez]
- At the time, some said, "Jim Crow was not hibernating in the deep south" [The Wall Street Journal] Others saw this ruling as "gutting" the core of the civil rights legislation. [The Guardian]
- Since the decision, states across the country have enacted what many see as voter suppression and disenfranchisement policies and laws that may not have been cleared by the federal government. [Brennan Center for Justice]
- Dec. 6, 2019: The House of Representatives passed legislation to restore the policy and improve voter protections. The bill had unanimous opposition from Republicans and has not been voted on in the Senate due to the filibuster. [The New York Times]
- July 21, 2020: After the death of civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, many are urging Congress to pass a new Voting Rights Act with improved voter protections. [The New York Times]
- Aug.18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- The fight for the right to vote continues to this day. Dive into Protecting the Right to Vote.
- A majority of Americans support removing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.
- How did activism play a role in passing these monumental constitutional and legal changes in the United States? Does activism change history?
- Read John Lewis' "Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation", published in the New York Times after his death.
- In a majority of states, former felons do not have the right to vote. Is this unconstitutional? Read more.
- Should U.S. territories, like Puerto Rico, have voting rights and representation in Congress?
- The 26th Amendment made the national legal voting age 18. There is a movement to make it 16. Read more.
- Learn more about How to Amend the U.S. Constitution.
- Listen to how one man's vote, influenced by his mother, passed the 19th Amendment.