Question - What does the Constitution say about voting rights?
Answer - Actually, there is no right to vote in the United States Constitution. However, a number of amendments to the Constitution have made provision for this right in circumstances where it had been denied.
Fifteenth Amendment (Ratified on February 3, 1870) - 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.
Even though the 15th amendment was ratified in 1870, it took passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were actually registered to vote. For years states in the south used literacy tests, poll taxes, and other means to prohibit and disenfranchise large numbers of African American voters.
Nineteenth Amendment (Ratified on August 18, 1920) - 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 sex.
It took decades in which suffragettes marched, wrote, picketed, lobbied, spoke, and protested before they were granted the right to vote. At the time, many in America considered this amendment to be a radical change to the Constitution.
Twenty-fourth Amendment (Ratified on January 23, 1964) - The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Should your financial circumstances determine your eligibility to vote? At the time this amendment was passed the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia were still using poll taxes as a means to exclude African American voters and extend the practice of segregation.
Twenty-sixth Amendment (Ratified on July 1, 1971) - The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Imagine you live in a world where you can be drafted to fight for your country, yet aren't afforded the opportunity to vote. That's the position young people found themselves in during the Vietnam War when the voting age was 21. This amendment has the distinction of being ratified in the shortest period of time, only 107 days after its proposal.
It is easy to become complacent and believe that one vote, one voice doesn't matter. But when those missed votes and voices are added up, important and diverse groups in our society are left out. For many, many years voting was a right afforded to privileged white men. We have a come a long way since those days, but we still have a long way to go. Every voice, every opinion matters. We cannot move this country forward without the thoughtful participation of ALL our citizens, young and old, male and female, partisan and non-partisan.
On November 6th I will fulfill my civic responsibility. I will wait in line, no matter how long, and cast my ballot. I will wear my "I Voted" sticker to work. At the end of the day I will come home and spend the evening watching history unfold. No matter the outcome, I will be proud that I participated. Won't you join me?
You can read what others have to say about the importance of voting at Blog the Vote 2012.