Voting is not for everyone.
Many laws, rules and regulations have been required to define who can vote. Among them are four amendments to the United States Constitution.
Those amendments happen only with the approval of two-thirds (34 of 50) of state legislatures or conventions. The proposed amendments do not go to the states until first approved by two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate.
Here are the four amendments that made it over those hurdles to ratification since the adoption of the Constitution in 1789.
The 15th Amendment provides that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified in 1870 to grant African American men the right to vote. That amendment led to state legislation and rules establishing poll taxes, literacy tests and other means to limit voting. An attempt to remove those barriers was made with the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 and guarantees American women the right to vote. It required a long, hard fight.
The 24th Amendment was ratified in 1964 and outlawed the poll tax as a voting requirement in federal elections. Poll taxes were then in effect in Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.
The 26th Amendment was ratified on July 1, 1971, and lowered the voting age to 18. Congress had intended to reduce the voting age to 18 as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1970. A challenge to that legislation resulted in a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court applying the lowered voting age to federal elections only. Ratification made the change mandatory in all states of the Union.
Amending the Constitution is a big deal, as was giving Black men, women, and 18- year-olds the vote. Mentioned occasionally in the debates leading to passage of those amendments was this language from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Notwithstanding this familiar language from the Declaration, voting rights are again in play, particularly in those states with Republican majorities.
Are they important enough to be on the “unalienable” list?
Yes. Voting is fundamental to a system of government designed to operate with the consent of the governed. That was the goal of those who created our Constitution, and it has served us well for 232 years.
No other system of government has performed as well, being able to adapt and survive as well as defend the rest of the world from forces that brought us two world wars.
One of our current international friends, Germany, was an evil, formidable enemy in those wars, a perpetrator of unspeakable crimes under an authoritarian leader. Among those who seek to limit voting rights are supporters of Adolf Hitler and what he represented.
Those supporters must be important to the leadership of a party whose base is shrinking; members are beginning to look around and realize with whom they are consorting. Quite obviously, voting limitations designed to affect people who are not white alienate an increasing percentage of our population.
Arguing that elections are stolen despite all evidence to the contrary does not build confidence in those who care about the truth, and who understand the importance of voting to the preservation of our democracy.
Support for the Republican Party can be expected to decline as good people choose to “vote with their feet” and leave it behind.
Keith Mobley is a retired lawyer living in Dufur.