voting rightsOne of the founding principles of our voting system of government is “one man, one vote.” The implication is that every citizen gets one vote in each election and that each vote will have the same potential impact on the outcome of the election as any other person’s vote. The implication is also that, in a perfect world, no citizen will ever be denied his or her right to that vote and that all will be able to willingly engage in the privilege of voting for their elected officials freely, openly and eagerly.


When this thing that has been called “The Great American Experiment” got underway, our system of voting and the rule of the people were virtually untried on a national scale such as it was envisioned by the founding fathers. Much of the language that is so poetic in our cornerstone documents such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence read like philosophical treatises rather than documents grounded in a hard fought awareness of reality.


But in a way, that’s a good thing because the authors of these documents were philosophers of their time. And what they were describing in their vision of how this great new country would function was theoretical and based on political theory drawn from historical sources rather than immediate historical precedent. But we only have to look at the outcome to admire that it’s a good thing that the founding fathers were wiser than they were practical.


We as a people were not too small to live up to the high expectations of our founding fathers. Over the decades, amendments to the constitution were put in place, legal precedents were made and social attitudes changed so that more and more of the nation’s citizenry gained the same rights that all should have, to be able to vote in the elections of their country. Some of those landmark moments in history include:


*The fifteenth amendment which granted voting rights to African Americans.
*The fourteenth amendment which guaranteed equal protection of all citizens under the law.
*The nineteenth amendment which guaranteed voting rights for women.
*The civil rights act of 1964 which put further enforcement around these previous laws and amendments to assure equal treatment of all so access to the government is truly a right of all citizens.
*The Voting Rights Act of 1965 which outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting even though in a 5-to-4 vote, the US Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval claiming such provision was no longer necessary since we have an African American in the White House.


Since the improvements to the original founding documents were put in place, phenomenal changes have taken place that provide concrete proof that the vision of the founding fathers was indeed something that could be a reality and not just the philosophical musings of an educated few.


One of the most noticeable social changes that has come along with the legal recognition of the rights of minorities and women to participate in the election process is that the composition of the government has changed dramatically especially with the Tea Party movement. Unfortunately, over the past few years, more than 30 Republican controlled states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb a voter’s access to voting. Some states, such as Florida and Ohio, had dramatically shortened early voting opportunities, including the weekend before Election Day when many minority voters choose to vote.


Florida and Texas both even passed legislation to make it harder for volunteer organizations like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Since 2011, ten states have joined Indiana and Georgia to require voters to show a photo ID. Several others are considering photo ID legislation. Additionally, some states including Kansas, were requiring citizens to show proof of citizenship just to register to vote. Fortunately, the courts have recently declared these kinds of laws unconstitutional and have thrown them out in time for the upcoming November elections. As a direct result of the court’s actions, many African Americans, senior citizens, and young people in the affected states will be able to freely embrace the “one man, one vote” right on November 4, 2014.




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