Maggie A's Meanderings




 July 7, 2013

If You Think Everyone Has the Right to Vote ---- You're So Wrong

Lately I've been encountering the opinion that here in America everyone has the right to vote ---- that the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to everyone. As a woman and a minority, let me say if you believe that you are demonstrating colossal ignorance of the country we live in and of American history.

Who can vote has never been universal in the United States, and it's still not universal today. Who can vote has always been restricted.
The original Constitution says absolutely nothing about who's allowed to vote.........leaving it entirely up to the states to decide who could and could not vote.

To read a succinct timeline of U.S. voting rights through history click here.

In the 18th century, back when the Constitution was written the following categories were used to decide who was qualified to vote:
  1. Citizenship
  2. Age
  3. Residency
  4. Sex
  5. Religion
  6. Servitude Status 
  7. Race 
  8. Property Ownership / Wealth
  9. Criminal History
Under the Constitution, in 18th century America only 10-16% of the population could vote. Generally it was wealthy/landed White males 21 and up who could vote. (Though restrictions varied from state to state so freed slaves could vote in 4 out of the 13 states if they met the other qualifications.) John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of this country wrote, "Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level." And our Founding Fathers obviously went with that belief based on how much they restricted the franchise.

In the 19th century, some restrictions were eliminated while others were added. Religious qualifications were eliminated in 1810, but the first literacy test was added in 1855 in an attempt to keep Irish-Catholics from voting. In general there were three types of restrictions added:
  1. Literacy Test
  2. Poll Tax
  3. Grandfather Clause
What the Amendments to the Consitution have done was to eliminate some restrictions that states had been using.

The history of 20th century America was a history of removing restrictions to vote.
But just because certain restrictions have been eliminated doesn't mean that the federal government and the states don't have the legal right to impose other restrictions. If you think that in 21st century America that "everyone" can vote or even that "everyone" is supposed to have the right to're wrong. In the United States, even without voter ID laws, there are still the following restrictions on who can vote:
  1. Citizenship
  2. Residency
  3. Age
  4. Criminal History
  5. Mental Competency*
What do those five restrictions mean in terms of the number of people in the U.S. who cannot vote?

308.75 Total Population of US in millions (2010)
74.19 Ineligible to vote because of age
22.4 Ineligible to vote because of citizenship status
5.85 Ineligible to vote because of criminal background
? Unknown number ineligible to vote because of mental competency
? Unknown number ineligible to vote because of residency status
102.4 People ineligible to vote (minimum number)

So out of a population of 308.75 million people living in the United States, only 206.31 people were eligible to vote.

Meaning 1 out of 3 people in the United States cannot vote.

Now whether you think that is a good thing or you think that is a bad thing, there's no arguing that it is the thing that exists in the United States of America. Not everyone in this country has the right to vote. And the Constitution does not guarantee everyone the right to vote. 

*Reason tells me that the mental competency restriction has been there since the U.S. was founded, but I can't find any evidence of it in early America.

accurate election banner for polling place

Voting Rights History:
Voting rights in the United States, Wikipedia
(accessed Jul 2013)
U.S. Voting Rights, Infoplease
(accessed Jul 2013)
John Adams quote --Crews, Ed,  Voting in Early America, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2007 (accessed Jul 2013)
Population Data:
Total population in 2010 308,745,538-- State & County QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau
(accessed Jul 2013)
Population 18 & over in 2010 234,564 thousand -- Resident Population of Voting Age and Percent Casting Votes—States: 2000 to 2010United States Census Bureau (accessed Jul 2013)
Foreign born population in 2010 40.0 million --
2010 American Community Survey Highlights, United States Census Bureau (accessed Jul 2013)
Percent naturalized citizens in 2010 44% -- The Foreign-Born Population in the United States,
United States Census Bureau, p. 11 (accessed Jul 2013)
Felons and Voting:
McLaughlin, Michael, Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project, Huffington Post, Jul 12, 2012
(accessed Jul 2013)
Uggen, Christopher, Shannon, Sarah, and Manza, Jeff, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010, Sentencing Project, July 2012 (accessed Jul 2013)
Voting restrictions for criminals in Colonial and Early America  -- The Consistency of Felon Disenfranchisement With Citizenship Theory, Sentencing Project, 2004
(accessed Jul 2013)
Mental disability and voting:
Overview -- Leonard, Kimberly, Keeping the 'Mentally Incompetent' From Voting, The Atlantic, Oct 17, 2012
(accessed Jul 2013)
State laws -- Schriner, Kay, Rchs, Lisa and Shields, Todd, State Laws Affecting the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities, 866ourvote (accessed Jul 2013)

For more unconscious assumptions read, "Guns and Smoking" or "Dying from Terrorism Not Really a Danger --- Losing Freedoms Is a Real Danger."
For more on the Constitution, there's "4 Proposed Amendments to the US Constitution."
For more on politics, look in the
Archive for any piece marked "Politics."



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