Americans have had centuries of hard-won voting rights expansion. At our founding, states decided who could vote, and usually limited the right to white male adult property-owners. Property ownership requirements did not completely disappear until 1856. The 15th Amendment explicity banned the denial of voting rights based on race in 1870. The 19th Amendment in 1920 extended suffrage to women. Then in 1964 and 1965, the equal rights struggle for black Americans earned victories with the poll tax ban under the 24th Amendment and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The minimum voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971.
In recent years however, this historic trend has begun to reverse. More than 41 states have introduced or enacted legislation since 2011 that would curb voters’ access to voting. These laws and policies are more subtle than those of the Jim Crow days, but they have the same disenfranchising effect on citizens of color, young people, students, seniors, low-income Americans, veterans and others. When states limit voter registration, require strict voter ID and proof of citizenship or shorten and eliminate early voting periods, they are engaging in voter suppression. These policies often are wrapped in language about “election integrity” and “eliminating voter fraud” and “preserving fair elections”. The bottom line, however, is that they obstruct the ability of eligible citizens to participate in our democracy.