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When the U.S. Constitution was signed, slavery was lawful and launched the racist restrictions on voting we still see today.[Leer en español aquí.]
U.S. Constitution / Slavery
Non-white men were counted as 3/5 a person, women weren’t counted at all, and neither were allowed to vote. This ended for men when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed, abolishing slavery, guaranteeing equal protection, and agreeing that governments can’t deny the right to vote based on race, color, or having been a slave.
Jim Crow Laws
Southern states were livid at the passage of those three “Reconstruction Amendments.” So they passed “Jim Crow laws” to make it harder for black citizens to register and vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and laws prohibiting people with a criminal conviction from voting were specifically designed to suppress black political power.
20th Century Suppression
Many religious and paramilitary groups enforced voter suppression until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, and the U.S. put teeth into prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. The VRA resulted in the mass enfranchisement (restoring the right to vote) of racial minorities, most notably in the South. It is considered the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
21st Century Disenfranchisement
Sadly, since 2008, states across the country have passed measures making it harder for Americans to vote—especially people of color, the elderly, the poor, students, and people with disabilities. These measures include voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, and ongoing “felony disenfranchisement,” the stripping away of a person’s right to vote because of a criminal conviction.