Politics on Point: Who can vote?
ANOTHER IMPORTANT RIGHT WE HAVE AS AMERICAN CITIZENS IS THE RIGHT TO VOTE – BUT MOST OF YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT ALLOWED TO – AND, AT ONE POINT IN THIS COUNTRY’S HISTORY, I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN EITHER. UP NEXT IN OUR POLITICS ON POINT SEGMENT, NICK CASTELE FILLS US IN ON WHO ‘CAN’ VOTE – AND HOW SOME PEOPLE HAVE HAD TO FIGHT FOR THAT RIGHT.
Recently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the United States the “oldest democracy in the world.”
A democracy is "a system of government in which power is given to the people, who rule through freely elected representatives.” In the U.S., that means we elect Judges, Senators, Representatives, and Presidents – and we do it by voting.
Voting is often considered our most important right as U.S. citizens. But exactly who gets that right has changed quite a bit through the years.
When we elected our first congress in 1789, the only citizens who could vote were free white men, who were 21 years or older, and owned land. That left out a majority of the people in the United States – in fact, in some states, less than 1% of the total population actually cast ballots.
Nearly a hundred years later, after the Civil War ended slavery in America, the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution. It says federal and state governments cannot deny anyone the right to vote based on their race, skin color, or having been a slave. While this should have opened up the polls to black voters, many Southern states passed restrictive voting laws that kept them from voting.
It wasn’t until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, that all African Americans could exercise their right to vote.
The next big amendment to open up the polls was the 19th. Although women had been an important force in the history of this country, they had to fight for generations to earn the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragettes, held protests, circulated petitions, and lobbied Congress to give women the vote. Finally, in 1919, the 19th Amendment was approved by Congress and women cast their ballots for the first time in the election of President Warren G. Harding in 1920.
Even the poor were as discriminated for a time. In some states, voters had to pay a tax in order to vote. That is until the 24th Amendment -- signed in 1964 -- made it illegal.
One of the last hurdles for determining who could vote, was the age limit that had been set at 21 years old way back in 1789. But when the Vietnam War started and 18-year-olds were drafted to fight, many argued that they too should be able to vote. In 1971, the states agreed to lower the limit to 18 years by ratifying the 26th Amendment.
Even today, some argue that voter ID laws, which require every voter to present a government-issued ID, are just another way to leave some people out of our democratic process.
Because of its history of barring so many voters for so long, many people have disputed Speaker Ryan’s claim that the U.S. is, in fact, the world’s oldest democracy. Whether or not this claim is true, voting is not something to be taken lightly – it’s a right that many of our fore -fathers – and fore-mothers – have fought for.
Website: Rock the Vote Oho
Website: PBS, We the Voters
Website: PBS Kids, You Choose
Website Article: Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government, The What and Who of Elections
Lesson Plan: Foundations of Democracy, How Should We Choose People for Positions of Authority?
Website Article: Congress for Kids, Democracy
Encyclopedia Article: World Book Kids, Taiwan