Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 06:18:41 -0700 (PDT)

The War Against Women: Voting in the United States

The right to vote is an essential one for a free and democratic society. Through voting, the power of the people is acknowledged, and the right of self-determination is enabled to the extent possible in a large government based on indirect representation (at least in the US). The electorate is comprised of citizens. As we know it today, the electorate is comprised of all American citizens age eighteen or over who are not currently in prison or had their rights to vote revoked for other reason (whatever those may be).

It has not always been this way. When the colonies were originally settled, the right to vote was held only by ethnically European males who were at least twenty-one years of age and who owned land. Securing the right to vote for all citizens has been a long uphill struggle. At the time the Constitution was written, voting citizens were restricted to males of European descent aged twenty-one and over. Native Americans, not being subject to taxation by the United States, were also not eligible to vote. Slaves could not vote, and in a further mockery of liberty and justice were to be counted as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of allocating representatives in the House.

The first American civil war ended in 1865 (The second American civil war is well under way with more than a million Americans incarcerated as political prisoners). The body count had been exceptionally high. Approximately one million Americans lost their lives in the conflict. As a result of this war, negro slaves were expiated from their bondage. They were not, however, accorded the rights of full citizenship and were turned away at the voting booth. This situation was (partially) rectified in 1870 with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The amendment reads: "The rights of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

This secured the vote for black men aged twenty-one or over. So what about women? Well, Congress did eventually get around to it with the Ninteenth Amendment which reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." Notice that Congress had a few things that were apparently more important to do than grant more than half of the adult population the voting rights they should have never been denied in the first place. They passed three other amendments before granting women their right to vote. Suffrage was granted to blacks in 1870. Suffrage was granted to women in 1920. That's a delay of fifty years! My grandmother was born into an America in which women could not vote. The bootheels of men have been stomping in the faces of women throughout most of human history. Suffrage for women even in what is supposedly the bastion of democracy, the United States of America, is a twentieth-century development.

Sly, evil men used to have a variety of methods for denying people the right to vote. Poor people could have their voices silenced through poll taxes, fees levied for voting. These taxes were abolished in 1964 with the Twenty-Fourth Amendment which reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator of Representative in Congress, 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." Notice that JFK was already worm food by this time. The Civil Rights Movement was well under way. Much of Detroit was destroyed in the riots of 1967, showing us just how bad the net effects of unjust oppression really were.

Some of you may have noted that the current voting age is eighteen but so far only citizens aged twenty-one and over can vote. The right to vote for those aged eighteen to twenty-one was granted by the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (the last one to date) which reads: "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen 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." This happened on July first, 1971. I was an infant at that time (and I was cute, too).

Appreciate your right to vote. Excercise that right every time you are called to do it. It's your democracy. It's my democracy. It's our democracy. We are the people. We are the power. Through statement of our collective wills at the voting booth we will be able to secure our liberties for ourselves and our posterity for generations to come.

Alan Wescoat