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  • Writer's pictureMonica A. Teasley, Esq.

Vote: Make Your Voice Heard

The Law is intended to be a constantly changing and growing entity that evolves with the needs and changes of our society. Yearly, we see changes that emerge in response to expectations from citizens seeking protection, those with privacy concerns, and others who have financial concerns. This blog section discusses changes in the law based on current trends.

Happy Inauguration Day! This past election season was truly one of historical proportions. It yielded a change in national leadership that included a female VP of color and a double senate run-off race in Georgia that resulted in a 50/50 division of power in the Senate, and a slim majority in the House. One Party now controls all levers of power at the national level. Let there be no mistake that the record number of voters who turned out in person and via absentee ballot made it abundantly clear that each one’s vote absolutely counted. But the situation was not always thus. Throughout our history there have always been attempts to suppress those with the legal right to vote from voting.

The history of voting rights began with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. This amendment guaranteed the right of all men of all races (including former slaves) to vote. Initially, the passage of Fifteenth Amendment resulted in high voter turnout among African Americans in the South. In the United States presidential election of 1880, a majority of eligible African-American voters cast ballots in every southern state except for two. In eight of those states, Black turnout was equal to or greater than White turnout. At the end of the Reconstruction era, Southern States began implementing policies to suppress Black voters. And so, after 1890, fewer than 9,000 (6%) of Mississippi’s 147,000 eligible African-American voters were registered to vote. Louisiana’s voter rolls decreased from 130, 00 registered African-American voters in 1896 to 1,342 in 1904 – a decrease of almost100%!

Forms of voter suppression included the poll tax - a fee that required voters to pay a small sum before they could vote. This tax dis-enfranchised African-American and poor Whites who could ill afford to pay. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the poll tax (Breedlove v. Suttles, 1937) and a Federal court affirmed that decision in 1951 (Butler v. Thompson). But by 1964, the Twenty-fourth Amendment finally did away with the tax.

Literacy Tests were also used to disenfranchise poor or African-American voters. Literacy tests varied in difficulty, with African Americans often being given more rigorous tests than Whites. In Alabama in the 1950s, for example, at least twelve Whites who had not finished elementary school passed the literacy test while several college-educated African Americans failed.

In more recent times, purging voter rolls has sometimes led to voter disenfranchisement. There are, of course, legitimate reasons to make voting rolls accurate (people change addresses, people change their names, people die), but some states make less of an effort to verify these changes, and it is often Blacks or other people of color who are disproportionately affected.

Other measures that have tended to have a negative effect on voting rights include limiting absentee voting, limiting early voting, and voter identification requirements. Think of this: if your vote were not important, why would anyone try so hard to prevent you from voting?

The good news is that many states have recently enacted laws to counter voter suppression tactics, most notably “automatic voter registration.” As of July 2019, 16 states and the District of Columba have automatic voter registration for citizens who interact with state agencies (such as the DMV). Seven other states have either passed legislation or have committed administratively to the creation of automatic registration systems, but they have not yet implemented them. Some states even allow Election Day voter registration, enabling eligible citizens to register to vote or update their registration when they arrive to vote.

Voting is both your right and your privilege. Get registered. Be informed. Consider what is happening not just at the national level, but at the local level. Know your community. Know when elections will be held and plan to be there. Make your voice heard. Happy 2021!

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