The Long and Winding Path Towards the Right to Vote

This post was inspired by a recent article by historian, author, and Boston College professor, Heather Cox Richardson. My blog title reflects Terri Webster’s Sunday Stills theme this week, Paths and Trails.   

The path towards the right to vote in the United States has not been a straight one, nor without dangerous twists and turns along the way. But, like with so many of this country’s struggles, there were many brave advocates who risked their reputations, their freedom, and even their lives to secure the ability to have a say in how the government was run.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former enslaved people—and guaranteed all citizens the right to vote. Except, “all citizens” didn’t include women, in fact the amendment was the first time the Constitution included the word “male.”

Again, in 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, there was still no mention of women’s suffrage. The Amendment which states: “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” didn’t include a woman’s right to vote.

After years of advocating for their rights unsuccessfully, women suffragists attempted to vote in the 1872 presidential election, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment recognized their citizenship. In fact, Susan B. Anthony was able to cast her vote but, three weeks later, she was arrested for voter fraud.

Not as well known as Anthony, but just as important to women’s suffrage, was Virginia Minor of St. Louis, Missouri. When she tried to register to vote in 1872, a registrar by the name of Reese Happersett refused because of her gender. As a woman, Minor was not able to sue, so her husband sued in the case (Minor v. Happersett) that eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court’s decision, handed down in 1875, acknowledged that women were citizens, but that fact didn’t mean they had the right to vote. According to the Supreme Court, state governments could discriminate against their citizens so long as that discrimination was not on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

That ruling helped to usher in a multitude of voter eligibility limitations that skirted the Fourteenth Amendment, by imposing requirements like education, proof of tax payments, etc. As long as it could be demonstrated that the requirements weren’t based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, they were allowed.  

It wasn’t until 1920—just over 100 years ago—that the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, giving women the constitutional right to vote. Sadly, it was another forty years before voting requirements such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and other rules designed to keep Black people from voting were found unconstitutional. The Supreme Court finally decided that voting was a fundamental right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Even today, barriers put in our path can make it harder to vote.

The fight for suffrage did not follow a path that was easy or smooth and this right should never be taken lightly. I sometimes wonder if I would have been as brave as those who struggled so many years ago. Would I risk going to jail to have my voice heard? I hope so but I don’t know. What I do know is that I will always value this fundamental right and never miss the opportunity to cast my ballot.

I hope you will to.   

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GratiTuesday: Showing Up

As most of you know, the U.S. midterm elections take place next Tuesday, November 6. I have voted in every election since I first became eligible in 1974, and I’m shocked at the number of people who don’t even bother. Of all the excuses given for sitting out an election, only one is valid: … oh, wait, none of them are valid.

Marty, who writes the terrific blog, Snakes in the Grass, recently related his experience taking part in a get-out-the-vote phone bank. Although his post mostly dealt with the humorous side of making calls in an often phone-adverse world, it reminded me that, as important as our vote is, we can all do more to encourage others to vote as well.

In addition to being grateful for all those who make the effort to understand the issues and cast their vote, volunteers who walk precincts, make phone calls, and send text messages to boost voter participation get a special dose of my gratitude.

And, if you can, please encourage a young person to vote. If they don’t think their vote matters, remind them their non-vote hands their power to someone else… and that person may not have their best interests at heart.

We all need to show up and be counted.

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As I wrote in my last post, Realigning My Retirement, my blog will be going into hibernation during the months of November and December. While on my blogging break, I won’t be visiting or commenting on the blogs that I follow and, beginning with this post, comments will be closed on my blog. It will be a challenge to stay away but I look forward to spending time on other areas of my life.

I’m truly grateful for all the kind words my post generated. I’m not surprised that many others said they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and are considering taking a break too. Blogging is a passion, but it is also time-consuming.

Enjoy the holiday season with your friends and families. I look forward to connecting back again in the new year.

GratiTuesday: The right to vote

As circus-like as this U.S. election cycle has been – and it promises to get even crazier as we head into the general election – my right to vote isn’t something I take lightly. I remember going to the polls with my mother and having her tell me what a privilege it was to be a citizen and be able to cast her ballot. Even at that very young age, I looked forward to the time when I would be old enough to do the same.

Vote

I come from a fairly politically-active family. My mother was a member of the League of Women Voters and politics was often a topic of discussion around the dinner table. Even before I could vote, I volunteered for political campaigns. One of my favorite memories was walking a precinct with the actor Jon Voight (who, I understand has since turned more conservative) in support of George McGovern. The look on people’s faces as they answered their door was pretty funny—even those who didn’t support Senator McGovern stuck around to listen to our spiel.

I have voted in every election ever since I was old enough to cast a ballot. Although once or twice I mailed in my ballot, unless I’m out of town on Election Day I prefer to physically go to the polls. There is something about standing in line with my neighbors and performing this very American ritual that makes me feel that I’m a part of a greater whole. Although many election results don’t turn out the way I’d like them to, I take pride in knowing that I took the time and my vote was counted.

California, with its rich pool of delegates, is one of the last states to vote in the primaries. At one point, we thought that we’d actually have a voice in the selection of the presidential nominees but, once again, it appears that it is a forgone conclusion for both parties. Regardless, I have cast my ballot and will watch the results as they come in this evening. Even if my vote won’t influence the outcome of the presidential primary race, there are plenty of local and state offices and ballot measures that need to be decided.

Today, the first Tuesday of June, I am so grateful that I can freely cast my ballot and that my parents instilled in me the importance of being involved and having my voice heard. I am also grateful that tomorrow I will no longer be the recipient of political robo-calls on my phone and that my mailbox won’t be stuffed with oversized, glossy campaign advertising.