The 19th Amendment’s Centennial, the Journey for Suffrage for All: Then and Now
BY: Margaret Pham
On August 18th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting American women suffrage. After decades of lobbying, marching, writing, and practicing civil obedience, American women finally won the battle for their right to vote. Their efforts began in the 1800’s at the Seneca Falls Convention. But due to the Civil War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic, it was not until 1878 that the movement for women’s suffrage picked up steam and Congress introduced the Amendment. During the years leading up to 1920, female suffragists worked hard to gain the support political capital required to push through ratification 42 years later. While the initial Amendment marked a milestone in achieving political equality for both sexes, many women of color were left disenfranchised, and had to continue fighting for true equality for decades afterwards.
Despite the passing of the 19th Amendment, African-American women were still left to deal with state laws and other legal barriers to voting. Starting in 1924, Native Americans were finally granted citizenship rights. Along with granting proper citizenship to Native Americans, they also gained their right to vote as well. It was not until 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act that outlawed the suppressive legal barriers to voters. Following the murders in Mississippi of voting-rights activists, violent state trooper attacks in Selma Alabama, and numerous demonstrations owing to the growing civil rights movement of the 1960’s, President Johnson banned literacy tests, appointed Federal examiners, and prohibited “the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race or color.” Poll taxes that were previously charged for national elections were also abolished in 1964 via the 24th Amendment. Unfortunately, the Voting Rights Act still had a loophole that many politicians used to continue Poll Taxing in state and local elections.
In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a 5-to-4 ruling. The two sections struck were Section 5, requiring that certain states and local governments obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws of practices, and Section 4(b), which contains the determination of which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., part of the majority opinion, wrote, “Our country has changed… While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” As if the immediate effects in 2013 were not apparent enough when Texas enacted a voter identification law that would not have passed before the ruling in preclearance and how redistricting maps would no longer require federal approval, it would set a dangerous precedent for voting rights across the nation because without preclearance, changes would not be litigated before they caused their harm but only after-the-fact.
With the total number of Coronavirus cases rising exponentially in America, and less than 100 days until the Presidential Election, mail-in ballots are more vital than ever. They will protect the integrity of the election as well as the health and safety of the American citizens. Voter suppression since 2013 has risen and has led many Congress members to call for the advancement of the Voting Rights Act, especially in memory of the late Representative John Lewis, who fought bravely for the cause and spent his last days repairing and strengthening the damage wrought by the 2013 Supreme Court decision. Currently, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has blocked the vote to repair the Voting Rights Act for more than 255 days.
Voting registration restrictions and voter purges still plague the American voting system. Early registration, felony disenfranchisement, voting purges, and gerrymandering have put our democracy at risk. For example, in 2016, over 90,000 New Yorkers could not finish their voter registration because their applications did not meet a 25-day cutoff. The state later placed 42nd in voter turnout rates that year.
While we reflect on the progress America has made to enact universal suffrage, we must also account for the slow progress in marginalized communities, as well as setbacks that continue to suppress citizens’ rights to express their voice by casting their ballots.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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