The right to vote is the right to determine who governs. For many years, however, large numbers of Americans were denied this basic right. Today, even with all the formal restrictions against voting eliminated, a significant percentage of Americans choose not to cast their ballots. Voter participation has generally declined since
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It shows that the right to vote was actually never a constitutional guarantee and though the Arc of the right to vote does eventually bend toward full suffrage, it went through some back alleys first.
The arguments against womens suffrage were the most hilarious. And of course the constant efforts at black disenfranchisement were unbelievable and totally unsurprising. For better treatment of that, read Give us the Ballot, which is much more focused and interesting. So he set out to do it himself, and he did so marvelously. Keyssar shows that the expansion of the right to vote was by no means unilinear. Although in the years after the American Revolution, real and personal property requirements on voting were abandoned, they were often replaced by tax-paying requirements which lasted for When Alexander Keyssar of Harvard University started to research voting in America, he was shocked to find that nobody had done a comprehensive history of the subject.
Although in the years after the American Revolution, real and personal property requirements on voting were abandoned, they were often replaced by tax-paying requirements which lasted for decades. States also added lengthened "residency" requirements, demanding people live 1 to 2 years in a state before voting.
After the surge in s "Know Nothing" anti-immigrant attacks, some states instituted new complicated "registration" systems for voters and the first literacy requirements. Although the Civil War temporarily enfranchised blacks in the South, allowed for the first absentee voting by soldiers , and also led some states to pass "declarant alien" laws allowing even some noncitizens to vote, it was followed by increasing residency requirements for local areas including preventing students from voting in their college towns , and increasing property requirements for voting in some local or municipal elections, and of course a violent repression and increasing level of poll taxes, literacy requirements and residency requirements in the South.
After the 19th Amendment in gave women the right to vote, the last poll taxes were gradually dismantled, and soldiers increasingly got the right to vote wherever and by absentee ballots. But the real revolution was in the s. Besides the Voting Rights Act in which finally opened voting in the South to blacks, the US Supreme Court went on a tear, striking down just about every requirement on voting, often with little historical or constitutional analysis behind their rulings. In Dunn v. Blumstein the court said that there was no "compelling state interest" in residency requirements longer than about 30 days which was later added to the Voting Rights Act of In Harper v.
Virginia Board of Election the court declared state and local poll taxes an abridgement of equal protection. In Kramer v. Union Free School District they struck down property or parentage requirements for voting in school districts and declared all voting restrictions would have to meet "strict scrutiny" standards. In Allen v. In Oregon v. In the s the court, under a "totality of the circumstances" test, struck down multi-member voting districts, at-large elections, annexations, and a host of other government voting regulations as race-based and unconstitutional.
The results was a series of judicial and national voting standards, where voting had once been entirely up to the states. The nationalization of voting was made more so by the "Motor Voter Act" of , which expanded absentee registration and voting.
Although the weeds can get thick, Keyssar largely chops a clear path through them. This is a valuable and necessary addition to the scholarship on American democracy. The chapter about conditions after the election reads more like an Atlantic article than a history text but still provides good info Republican state legislatures have passed laws requiring prospective voters have IDs.
The aim is to prevent voter fraud, a crime even some Republicans acknowledge rarely happens. A look at the history of voting in the U. In a comprehensive yet highly readable study, Keyssar lays out U. A fascinating read.
The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States