Voting Rights are the Foundation of Our Democracy: Our Voices Will be Heard

Jun 27, 2021 | PDA News

Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA National Team

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First, some history:

The U.S. Constitution essentially restricted voting to property-owning Christian white men over 21, and states controlled voting rights. In 1791, the newly admitted state of Vermont granted suffrage to all men, regardless of color or property ownership. Although property ownership requirements generally decreased by mid-19th century, religious restrictions applied until 1828, free Black men were systematically disenfranchised, and women could only vote in occasional local elections.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, prevented states from denying the right to vote on grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” After Reconstruction, many states passed Jim Crow laws, effectively disenfranchising Blacks and many poor white voters through poll taxes and other devices. The Supreme Court declared Native Americans non-citizens (1876); Chinese Americans were denied citizenship through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Women’s suffrage depended on geography, and often was limited to local elections.

In 1890, the Indian Naturalization Act allowed Native Americans to apply for citizenship. Women gained suffrage in 1920 under the Nineteenth Amendment, but restrictions applied to non-white women. Native Americans gained citizenship in 1924, and Chinese immigrants were granted citizenship in 1943 (while Japanese Americans were interned 1942-44). Voting rights advanced and receded in various states until the U.S. Supreme Court established the “one man, one vote” doctrine in the early 1960s, and African American activists pressed for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1971, suffrage was extended to citizens aged 18 and older, and citizens residing overseas gained the vote in 1986. Re-enfranchisement of ex-felons has been sporadic.

Now, the problem:

When the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, states began restricting voting rights through massive voter roll purges, residential address requirements, contraction of registration and early voting practices, and voter ID laws. After the decisive 2020 election, Trumpublican purveyors of the “Big Lie” of massive but unsubstantiated voter fraud inundated Republican state legislatures with laws restricting voting, aimed at Democratic-leaning constituencies and providing mechanisms to overturn future undesirable election results (i.e., Democratic victories). Last week, Republican Senators blocked discussion of the For the People Act that would have encoded basic voting rights throughout the nation.

A solution and a way forward:

And so, here we are, fighting on the streets and in the halls of Congress again to demand protection and expansion of the fundamental right to vote. Since our founding in 2004, PDA has stood firm for expansion of voter rights and true election integrity to make the “one [hu]man, one vote” doctrine a reality. It’s been a tough fight; our goals remain elusive without reform of the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule. We continue to mobilize activists and educate Congress through our Congressional Liaison Program, and we will not give up until every eligible American citizen is fully enfranchised.

Please donate—monthly if you can—giving PDA the steady resources needed to maintain and expand this extended battle for voting rights and fair elections. If you want to join our efforts, volunteer here. We depend on your generosity to continue our efforts fulfilling the promise of free, fair, accessible, and accountable elections throughout these United States.

Thanks for all you do.