Who Gets To Vote?

Two hundred thirty-eight years ago today America was born. Under the shadow of the American Revolution a nation of promise and hope was created. Then it happened: the Second Continental Congress restricted the right to vote to white, free, male landowners, over the age of 21. That was the start of our nation’s still bumpy ride on the road to voting equality.

Every time there was a boost for democracy, there came an equal opposing force. In Florida, blacks composed almost half of Florida’s population at the end of the Civil War. Like in other Southern states, most blacks in Florida were slaves and none had the right to vote.

As a condition for rejoining the Union, Florida and the rest of the Confederate states had to draft new constitutions protecting the political rights of the newly freed slaves as directed in the 15th Amendment. Florida politicians then adopted other provisions to eliminate black voting.  The 1888 poll tax and literacy test reduced black voter turnout from 62% to 11%.

In 1907 US born women lost their citizenship if they married a non-citizen.

In 1917 interpreters for Mexican-Americans were banned at Texas polling places.

In 1928 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans living on reservations were wards of the state and could not vote.

In 1947 Caddo Parish, Louisiana, black voters were enrolled only if three white voters vouched for them.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed to shore up the 15th Amendment and fix all that. Has it?

In 2004 Arizona was the first state to require a government issued photo ID as a prerequisite for voting.

Thirty-four states have passed voter ID laws in the last ten years. According to Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “These laws represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades.”

Currently, the laws are being challenged in the courts by several advocacy groups, as well as the United States Department of Justice. However, court cases can take years and no matter the fate of this law in the courts, elections in the near future will be greatly impacted.

The North Carolina Center for Voter Education reported that 260 new voter IDs were issued in the first three months of 2014. Of that number 87% of the IDs were issued to new voters, leaving approximately 31 of the more than 300,000 already registered voters as having received an ID. It’s not all bad news though.

A recently released study, conducted by Jack Citrin, Donald P. Green, and Morris Levy, gives strong indicators there is opportunity in educating and assisting voters whose right to vote is at risk. The Citrin, Green and Levy study contends, “the Help message appears to raise turnout, with positive effects ranging from 0.66 to 2.03 percentage points.”

RuralVotes and South Forward have been hard at work on the North Carolina Voter Identification Assistance Project (NCVIP).  Our mission is to reach out to hundreds of thousands of affected North Carolina voters, explain the new laws and make sure they have access to the identification they need to continue to be able to vote.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal … the promise of July 4, 1776 has yet to be delivered. There is plenty of work to be done and you can help by visiting: www.VoterIDProject.org to make a donation.

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