With Election Day right around the corner, heated debates and differing opinions flung back and forth across the states can make it difficult to keep in mind that voting is a civic privilege as well as a duty. It isn’t something we should approach with flippancy or entitlement. For many of us, it was a right hard won over the course of centuries.
Originally, the U.S. Constitution allowed its states to decide individually who was qualified to vote. As states began joining the union, they created their own legislatures outlining the rules. White men twenty-one years or older were the only ones who had a say, and even with those qualifications they could be disregarded if they didn’t own any land.
The 15th Amendment was adopted into the US Constitution in 1870 granting African-American men the right to vote. Southern states used poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation and fraud to prevent that right from being exercised. It would take nearly a century for it to be put into practice with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Women, meanwhile, struggled to make their voices heard. Women’s suffrage had to claw their voter rights from the hands of one state at a time. Strategies varied from challenges in court and picketing to silent vigils and hunger strikes. For their efforts, they found themselves harassed, jailed, and physically abused. Though the 19th Amendment was first introduced in 1878, the fight to ratify it continued until 1920.
Click here to see an interactive timeline of who got the right to vote when.
With such a checkered history and so many battles fought to secure this right, voting ought to be considered sacrosanct. This is proof of your independence: you act equipped with your wisdom, your values, and your ballot. It’s imperative, then, not to let the badgering, squabbling and demands of others sway us. Vote with your own moral standing, not one that others thrust upon you. Become informed; know what you believe.