In a few days, millions of Americans will head to their local polling stations to practice one of our most fundamental freedoms – the right to vote. That right is one that defines our nation. Our voices are strong because our legislators are elected by the people and ultimately answer to them.
We can thank bold leaders from the past for securing the freedom to vote. From the earliest days of our nation, brave men and women have stood up and demanded their voices be heard.
The Beginning of Voting in America
In the years leading up to the American Revolution, colonists were concerned that they had no representation back in England. Significant decisions, specifically on taxing the colonists, were made by a king and Parliament thousands of miles away. The colonies had no voice and no input. They believed so strongly in their rights as citizens and human beings that they were willing to fight a seemingly unbeatable foe.
After the British surrendered, the Founders established a new government with checks and balances to better represent the will of the people. The Constitution didn’t specifically give the right to vote to citizens, but it did provide that members of the House of Representatives would be elected by the people. The Constitution then left it to the states to decide voting eligibility and requirements. Many were left out of voting in the first century of American history, but they wouldn’t sit quietly and let their rights be withheld.
Expanding the Right to Vote
By the 1840s, the women’s suffrage movement was in full force. Women all over the country petitioned and lobbied Congress for the right to vote. Women worked tirelessly to convince Congress that the right to vote was as much theirs as their male counterparts.
Even though they couldn’t vote yet, women used petitioning as a resource when they wanted to see change. That came in handy during the abolitionist movement leading up to the Civil War.
Susan B. Anthony rallied support for the Thirteenth Amendment, which banned slavery in the United States in 1865. The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified five years later, stating the right to vote wouldn’t be denied based on race or color. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement helped make these milestone amendments a reality.
Forty years later, suffragettes’ work would be rewarded. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment prevented federal and state governments from denying voting rights based on sex. Women could now legally vote in federal elections.
Voting in the United States Today
More laws have been passed since the Nineteenth Amendment that have further expanded voting rights to citizens including those in Washington, D.C., citizens 18 years and older and service members living on military bases or aboard ships.
With each new expansion of voting rights, more citizens get to participate in the democratic process. Today, there are abundant resources to educate voters on their candidates, help voters find polling locations and even give them rides to the ballot box.
We’ve come so far since the first votes were cast in our new nation, and we should be thankful for the millions willing to defend and expand our voting rights along the way.