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Voting rights in a democracy

April 11, 2013

By: John Bertsche
Originally Published: September 4, 2012

The United States justifiably prides itself as being a representative democracy. My Webster’s Dictionary describes democracy as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation, usually involving periodically held free elections.”

However, our record of allowing all citizens the privilege of voting is not always a stellar one. After our nation was founded, our Constitution denied voting rights for slaves and women. And in fact, 60 percent of slave representation was given to “free” males.

After the Civil War, slavery ended and slaves were given freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote. However, voting restrictions, frequent in southern States, were imposed on the newly-freed slaves. Methods used included intimidation, literacy tests and the imposition of a voting tax (poll tax). The success of the Civil Rights movement greatly expanded voting participation by African Americans. Women were not given the right to vote until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Now conservative movements are working to make it more difficult for minorities and the poor to vote. The primary tactic is to require pictorial voter ID. It is justified as a method to eliminate voter fraud, despite lack of credible evidence that this is a problem. Currently Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana require voter pictorial IDs. The August 31, 2012 Pantagraph reported that the court invalidated Texas’ pictorial voter ID law as being unwarranted restriction on the right to vote.

Other strategies used to suppress voting in poor and minority areas include restriction of early voting, limiting the number of polling places, and limiting the hours of voting. Since American elections are held on a weekday, restrictions are more likely to negatively impact workers, students, the elderly and those with limited mobility.

In an effort to assure that the democratic right to vote is available to all eligible voters, be alert for ways restrictions are imposed on target groups. Help preserve voting rights for all who have the legal right to vote.

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