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"We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
– Thomas Jefferson  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 10 October 2020  

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  Voting: how it came to be
  By Ava Stoller

   Much has changed throughout history regarding how and who can vote. From whitehouse.gov, originally under the Constitution, only white male citizens over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. Now, through amendments to the Constitution, citizens of the Unites States over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right to vote, regardless of race, religion, sex, disability or sexual orientation.
   
   The 15th Amendment, ratified in February of 1870, gives the right to vote to people of all races. From archives.gov, the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
   
   However, state statutes, called Jim Crow laws, legalized racial segregation. According to the History website, in the ensuing decades, various discriminatory practices; including poll taxes and literacy tests — along with Jim Crow laws, intimidation and outright violence — were used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote.
   
   The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in August of 1965, aimed to overcome all legal barriers at the state and local levels that denied African Americans their right to vote under the 15th Amendment. The act banned the use of literacy tests, provided for federal oversight of voter registration and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
   
   Native Americans faced many of the same challenges as African Americans. According to the History website, Native Americans were only able to win the right to vote by fighting for it state by state. Utah was the last to fully guarantee voting rights for Native people in 1962. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 strengthened the voting rights that Native people had won individually.
   
   The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. From the government archives website, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
   
   Women’s suffrage in the United States lasted for almost 100 years. From history.com, in 1848, delegates to the Seneca Falls Convention agreed: American women were autonomous individuals who deserved their own political identities. In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed; Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the organization’s first president. By then, the suffragists’ approach had changed. Instead of arguing that women deserved the same rights and responsibilities as men because women and men were “created equal,” the new generation of activists argued that women deserved the vote because they were different from men.
   
   In August of 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. As stated by the National Geographic website, on Nov. 2 of that year, more than eight million women across the United States voted in elections for the first time. Many Black women did manage to vote in 1920. Some had been exercising that right for several years in states like California, Illinois and New York, where women’s suffrage became law before the 19th Amendment — and even more women registered and cast ballots after its passage. However, not without their challenges. Poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses kept many African American women from voting.
   
   The 24th Amendment put an end to the use of poll taxes, ratified in January of 1964. From the government archives, the right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
   
   States generally required residents to pay a poll tax to register to vote or provide proof of payment of the tax to vote; failure to provide proof of paying the poll tax meant no voting.
   
   The reduction of voting age was changed by the 26th Amendment, ratified in March of 1971. From the government archives, the right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.
   
   The minimum voting age became a debate around the time of World War II. As stated by the History website, the long debate over lowering the voting age began during World War II and intensified during the Vietnam War, when young men denied the right to vote were being conscripted to fight for their country. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the minimum age for the military draft age to 18, at a time when the minimum voting age had been 21. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became a common slogan for a youth voting rights movement. In the 1970 case Oregon v. Mitchell, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum age in federal elections, but not at the state and local level. Amid increasing support for a Constitutional amendment, Congress passed the 26th Amendment in March 1971.
  
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