On Tuesday, Nov. 2, Americans will head to the polls to cast ballots for state office and to elect our national leaders to Congress as well as 37 U.S. Senators. Voting occurs in several ways from punch ballots, fill-in ballots, voting machines with printed receipts to mail-in ballots. Everyone age 18 and over has the right to vote but it was not always so.
Early voting methods
Voting in the new country of the United States of America was a slow process. People in rural areas traveled by horse and carriage to cast votes. Each individual state determined how voting was handled. Some cast paper ballots while others used voice votes recorded by county officials according to Colonial Williamsburg’s website.
Senators were chosen by electors in each state much like the Electoral College chooses the President. Until the 1850s owning property was seen as the only way to vote in America because leaders feared an illiterate electorate.
Suffrage for former slaves
Only after the Civil War did the United States specifically say who had the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 giving former slaves the right to vote. “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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The 15th Amendment also gave Congress the power to enforce this legislation. It was the first time Congress was given authority to mandate election laws in our history.
Enforcement acts of 1870 and 1871 were designed to criminalized the Ku Klux Klan and began a violent time for newly freed African-Americans, according to PBS. It was only after the bloodiest war in American history did these acts pass Congress so remember the blood of patriots who were spilled for our right to vote on Nov. 2.
Women’s voting rights
It was not until 1920 that women were given the right to vote via the 19th Amendment. Congress was again given authority to enforce the Amendment.
The National Archives stated some protests in 1919 turned violent as women marched on Washington to demand change from President Woodrow Wilson. Remember the women who fought for their rights to vote for 70 years up until the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Poll tax abolished
The poll tax was abolished in 1964 by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution. In an effort to make it harder for poor African Americans to vote, some states enacted a poll tax so those who couldn’t afford to vote weren’t able to.
Now voting in any form was a free right of any citizen 21 and over. Any financial burdens on voting were now placed upon the government and not individuals.
18-year-olds gain right to vote
It was not until 1971 that 18 year-olds were given the right to vote. People of that age could die for their country in the Armed Forces but couldn’t vote for leaders who would be in charge of their futures.
As we vote on Nov. 2 remember for the past 240 years voting may be taken for granted and the right has been far from guaranteed. Even such recent crises as the 2000 Presidential Election remind us that every vote counts.
From the American Revolution onward, people have died to preserve the fundamental freedom to vote. A vote cast on Nov. 2 is not in vain as it preserves the Republic as defined by the Founding Fathers. Thousands of Americans have given their lives to preserve this right.
We aren’t just voting for candidates or issues as Americans. We vote to preserve our way of life.