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History of voting.jpg

By W. McNair

What will you sacrifice to exercise your right to vote? The timeline above, "History of Voting in America," is published by the Office of the Secretary of State of the state of Washington, which is one of three states that issues all of its ballots by mail. The timeline illustrates an overview of voting from America's founding and highlights Washington state. This is noteworthy since, like Washington state, a large number of voters across the country will also be voting by mail because of the pandemic.


Throughout our history, United States' citizens have dealt with voter rights' issues. Initially, only Christian, white, male landowners, who were 21 years old and older, were allowed to vote in our country. The United States Constitution was amended almost 100 years later to allow all races other than Native Americans the right to vote, but there were still various obstacles to suppress the non-white vote. Literary tests, poll taxes, and other intimidating practices were instituted to dissuade many from voting.  Then, a half decade later women were given the right to vote followed by citizenship and voting rights for Native Americans. In 1964, almost 200 years after this country's founding, the Civil Rights Act was passed to level the playing field for all races. Whether you were a male or female, neither your race, religion, nor education were supposed to hinder a U.S. citizen from exercising his or her right to vote. Although it took another year, literacy tests were no longer required and the federal government was now enforcing voter registration and voter rights. The age to vote was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971. All of these improvements came because of the tremendous sacrifices of individuals who fought for equity and equality.

Voting in the United States is extremely different than it was just 50 years ago. Voters would have to go to the polling station on the day of the election and stand in line to vote. Only under extreme circumstances would someone be allowed to vote prior to Election Day. Historically, only voters with a legitimate excuse could vote absentee. It began with soldiers on the battlefield and overseas being given the opportunity to vote absentee. Later in the 1800s, other reasons such as illness, physical disability, religion, work-related, etc. were excuses that entitled a person to vote absentee. However, many states began allowing eligible voters to vote absentee without a reason. California was the first to do so in the 1980s. According to MIT Election Data & Science lab (2020), "By 2018, 27 states had adopted no-excuse absentee laws." 


Due to the pandemic, many concessions are being made to enable eligible citizens to vote during their local, state, and national elections. Millions have already voted through mail-in and in-person early voting. This election is being considered to be the "election of a lifetime" because of the highly polarized candidates and their platforms. Whatever your party affiliation, voters are having heated debates over their candidate preferences. Many have determined who they are voting for while others are still trying to decide. Those who are voting for a particular candidate are fairly secure in their decision. However, some that are voting policies over candidates are finding it hard to separate the two. Whether you have already decided or are still on the fence, do not let that deter your decision to vote. Weigh all of your options, and vote your convictions, but please exercise your right to have a voice in who will be writing policies that may affect your future. VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!

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