Voting Rights and Social Responsibility in America
The eligibility to vote in America is guaranteed in the country’s Constitution, its amendments and state law. According to American law, everyone in the country is eligible to vote if they are residents of the country and have been given permission to live within the borders of the country. Voting rights are currently granted to every legal citizen of the United States. However, this was not always the case. There was a time that African Americans, women, Native Americans, poor whites, and Jews were excluded from voting. These communities were refused the vote to right mainly because of discrimination by the male dominated white political elite. These communities have fought hard throughout the centuries to ensure that their civil rights, especially their right to vote, is upheld by the government.
Even with the tremendous breakthrough that America has made in ensuring that all citizens have a right to vote, some communities of people are having a hard time executing this right. For instance, homeless people in the country face numerous obstacles in voting mainly because it is a problem to register to vote. This is because the law at one point required that all individuals who wished to vote needed to register first, and one could only successfully register if they had a fixed place of residence.
Despite the fact that this requirement was done away by the early 21st century, the homeless still face hurdles in registering as voters every election. In the 2008 presidential elections, the lowest voter registration state and the lowest voting rate were experienced in the category for people with the lowest income and those with no reported income. The low registration of homeless voters could be attributed to the voter restrictions that states have enacted over the years. These restrictions make it difficult for the homeless people to be able to register to vote in the upcoming elections.
Twenty-one American states placed new restrictions on voting since the 2009 presidential elections. Among some of the restrictions are laws that require photo IDs for people to register as voters. For instance, in Texas, individuals are required to present a photo ID issued by the government. Furthermore, some states now require individuals to show proof of citizenship through documents such as a birth certificate in order to be approved to be registered voters. Most homeless people cannot afford the government-issued photo IDs and they may not be able to present documentation of their citizenship because they lack a permanent place of residence. This means that in Texas, more than 4400 people will not be eligible to vote because they cannot meet the voter registration requirements owing to their homelessness (Schneider, 2015).
Ethnic minorities are also facing difficulties in exercising their democratic right to vote. Hispanic and African Americans are having a hard time voting or even registering to vote. According to an article by Weiser (2014), new restrictions on voter registration have a disproportionate effect on minorities across the country. In 2008, voter participation among Hispanics and African Americans surged. It therefore does not come as a surprise that the states with the highest rate of minority voter turnout in 2008 were more likely to push for tougher restrictions on voter registration.
This news story resonates with other studies conducted on the correlation between voter restrictions and minorities’ voting. ‘Souls to the Polls’ drives have been shut down due to the restrictions. The drives were meant to encourage churchgoers to vote in numbers before coming to church on Sunday. This will cause a sharp decline in African American voters who are the prime focus of these drives. In fact, the new laws have restricted voter registration drives carried out by civil rights societies. Latinos and African Americans register through these drives twice the rate of the White majority leading to a decline in minority voter registration.
The move to restrict early voting is also targeting ethnic minorities. Early voting by African Americans has almost tripled from 2004 to 2008. The number of African Americans voting early has surpassed the number of whites who vote at this time. More than eight states that saw a sharp increase in early voting by minorities have instituted laws that aim to curb early voting. Same-day registration has also been scrapped off for many states despite how popular the policy was in African American and Hispanic neighborhoods.
There is also the move to refuse people with past convictions the right to vote. States such as Dakota, Iowa, ad Florida have all enacted laws that make it impossible for people with past convictions to vote and the trend is continuing across the country. This means that nearly 7.7 % African Americans will not vote as they past convictions. The law of disenfranchising convicts is specifically targeted towards African Americans as the community has the largest number of people with convictions.
The Republican Party is a stronghold in most of the states where the tighter restrictions are placed on voter registration. Republicans have pushed for reforms on voter registration to make it harder for minorities to vote. On the other hand, Democrats are calling for the registration of all people despite their place of residence or lack thereof, or their ethnic background.
Schneider, A. (2015, Nov 3). In Texas, Homeless Residents Face Obstacles to Voting. NPR. Retrieved on 22/2/2016 from http://www.npr.org/2015/11/03/454342295/in-texas-homeless-residents-face-obstacles-to-voting
Weiser, W.R. (2014). Voter Suppression: How Bad? (Pretty Bad). The American Prospect. Retrieved on 22/2/2016 from http://prospect.org/article/22-states-wave-new-voting-restrictions-threatens-shift-outcomes-tight-races