We are currently engaged in an election that many have called historic, unprecedented, and one of the most important in the history of America.
That got me to thinking about the checkered past of voting in America from the establishment of the now archaic Electoral College to voting rights, or lack thereof, for various groups.
In the beginning only certain white men were deemed worthy of the vote. Although the establishment of the Electoral College is viewed by many historians as a method of preserving slavery, it was also, without doubt, designed to keep certain people from voting.
Women of all colors were not given the right to vote, until some time after black men, theoretically, but they were not actually were given the vote. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, the last of the Reconstruction amendments, stated that no one could be denied the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Evidently, the loophole of gender still existed since women were not given the vote until 1919. White women and black people had been allies for a long time concerning voting rights, but the passage of the 15th Amendment broke the alliance which has really not ever been totally re-established. White suffragette leaders resented black men being given the right to vote, at least on paper, before them. Of course, in much of the country black people could not actually vote. White supremacist groups murdered blacks who tried and their white allies who tried to help them. Well into the 1960s and beyond black people were denied the vote as they had been for centuries.
Voting rights for other groups also lagged. Although Native Americans had been given some voting rights earlier, the Dawes Act of 1887 gave them the right to vote if they agreed to disassociate themselves from their tribes. They were not given the vote officially until 1924 when the Snyder Act was passed. Not all states complied, however, and American Indigenous people were not given the vote in every state until 1962 when Utah became the last state to comply.
Voter suppression was rampant, even more rampant than it currently is, however for many decades after all of the laws were passed. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed to stop things like poll taxes or tests that were only required of people of color, has been weakened fairly recently in 2013. The case of Shelby County v. Holder decided by the Supreme Court removed some requirements placed on states and areas historically guilty of overt racism, voter suppression, and interference with voting and has allowed the passage of more laws designed to keep certain populations for voting.
There are obviously still issues with voting. In two recent elections, men were placed in the Presidency that did had not won the most votes. Al Gore beat George W. Bush by 543,895 votes and Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2,870,000 votes. Rule by the majority is obviously subject to tampering with.
So voting in America has always been dicey as far as being indicative of participating in a representative democracy. The continued dominance of white males in our political offices is clearly a sign that things have not really changed as much as some of us would like to pretend they have. Women are a majority in the population, yet, the current Congress has 25 percent women in the Senate and 23 percent in the House of Representatives.
America has always been good at asserting its fairness and equality. One of my favorite presidents, Thomas Jefferson, even though he was a slave owner and sexual predator of a black woman, wrote beautifully about freedom, justice, democracy, and unalienable rights.
Sadly, like TJ, America has failed to practice what it preaches. Let’s hope for improvement.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.