Voting discrimination. It’s been around forever. And many people believe that it no longer affects America: no one can be refused the right to vote based on their race, income, gender, or ethnicity. Therefore, everyone (as long as they are over 18) can vote, right? Wrong.
At the beginning of America’s history, each state had different laws that dictated who could and could not vote. At the most restrictive, these laws allowed only adult, white property-owning males to vote. This left out the majority of the population.
Fast forward about 100 years to 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, giving all men (regardless of race) the right to vote. But the Fifteenth Amendment was repeatedly challenged in the South, as states enacted laws that did not openly restrict African American voting, but had basically the same effects. For example, many states enacted grandfather clauses, which held that a citizen could only vote if his or her grandfather had voted. Seeing as though African Americans didn’t have the right to vote in 1810, under the grandfather clauses, no African American would have the right to vote in 1870 either. Besides this, many states only allowed men to vote after they had passed a literacy test, a difficult fete for the many African Americans who had received subpar educations.
Even if the states hadn’t restricted the effectiveness of the Fifteenth Amendment, by 1870 the U.S. was still restricting half of its adult population from voting. It wasn’t until 1920 that women finally got the right to vote under the Nineteenth Amendment.
After the Voting Rights Act (which outlawed all discrimination in voting) was passed in 1965, many believed that voter discrimination was gone for good. But there are still voting laws in affect today that many see as discriminatory.
Many find the very day of the elections discriminatory. Elections happen on Tuesdays; it can be difficult for people with less flexible work hours (who usually receive less income) to leave their jobs in order to go vote. Usually people do not receive compensation for the hours they spend voting instead of working, forcing many to abandon the election polls in favor of earning the money they need. Additionally, transportation can be a problem for voters, as not everyone can find a way to get to the polls. To fix this discrimination against lower class workers, many have suggested declaring Voting Day a national holiday, in which employees can take off work to vote without punishment by their employers or loss of pay.
Some states have enacted laws that require voters to bring picture IDs with them to the polls. This often discourages those without IDs from voting. Keep in mind that the majority of those without IDs are from minority groups; therefore voter ID laws restrict minority voting, which is a form of discrimination.
Although the Voting Rights Act has significantly reduced voting discrimination, America is still far from its ideology of allowing equal participation in democracy.