The difficulties of voting from past to present

Despite great progress, our election process still discourages people from voting

Leighnah Perkins

leperkins@ursinus.edu

In the past two weeks various members of the GOP, including Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Newt Gingrich, all called for Trump supporters to “monitor” polling places across the U.S. to combat a rigged election.

Trump first encouraged this practice at a rally in Altoona, PA, where NBC reports he said “Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.” From there the Trump campaign began sign-ups on his website to be a “Trump Election Observer,” which involves going to the polls and watching for voter fraud. Yet, with such a divisive election, this seems to be the absolute last thing voters should be focused on.  

Recently, Donald Trump has been complaining on Twitter about how this election is rigged by the media while he encourages citizens to question and vet other citizens as they attempt to vote. Who gave random volunteers the right to potentially intimidate people out of their vote?

These acts of “poll monitoring” sound all too familiar for anyone acquainted with the history of minorities earning the right to vote.  

Massvote.org, an organization that works to educate and register voters, outlined a timeline of the history of voting from the birth of the U.S. in 1776 to the modern day.

Voting started after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Although the newly born United States was supposedly a land of freedom, there were numerous rules preventing those who were not land- owning, Protestant, white males from voting.

Shortly after, all white men of any religion gained the right to vote as did any white immigrants. Asian immigrants and those of Mexican descent were subsequently denied the right to vote. Enslaved African people were considered to only be three-fifths of a person, therefore they were also not permitted to vote.

In the late 1800s, a variety of tactics were employed to stop people, especially those who were enslaved, from voting. These tactics included poll taxes or having to pay to vote, literacy tests used to determine if those voting could read (most enslaved people could not), and grandfather clauses where citizens whose grandfather couldn’t vote prevented them from voting.

Throughout this time women were also unable to vote, until the creation of the nineteenth amendment in 1920. Native Americans also gained the right to vote four years later.

A major victory arrived in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, which stated that voters could not be discriminated against because of their race. However, literacy tests weren’t banned until 1975, still keeping people struggling to vote.

From that point, registering to vote was supposed to become easier for all Americans. In the 1990s, voter registration became available at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Now voter registration is available online in most states.

Despite great progress, there are still seemingly invisible barriers in the way of some citizens’ right to vote.

One group of citizens might be familiar to those who have read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Alexander points out that those convicted of a felony are no longer allowed to vote in elections despite their status as a citizen. Alexander writes that people of color are disproportionally imprisoned more than those who are white, which affects the voting process and the diversity in voting.

College students are also unfairly “monitored” in situations of voting. If you’re in-state, you might have to register in a separate county, which can be confusing in the registration process that asks for your “permanent address.”

If you’re out-of-state, you have to fill out and mail in an absentee ballot far before the actual election takes place, leaving many students to either miss the deadline completely or not mail in their ballot on time. The absentee ballot process is complicated by an outdated system.

Even the hours polls are open can limit voters. Considering the fact that polls are typically open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a weekday (a Tuesday), people with children, jobs that have wide ranging shifts, or hectic lifestyles in general could miss out on their chance to vote.

Overall, it’s important to make sure you are informed about how to vote for this and every election. Do not let forces, both institutional and just ones of inconvenient paperwork, intimidate or keep you from exercising your rights as an American citizen. People fought for hundreds of years for everyone to at least have a chance to vote.

For further information on Election Day, those who are registered to vote should check out Rock the Vote, a non-partisan platform that can help you find the correct polling place for your address and the hours it’s open.