Right to Vote, Elections, and the Media

An Overview of the Right to Vote

The right to vote is a right granted by the Constitutional Amendments to all United States citizens over the age of 18. The right to vote gives U.S. citizens the right to vote in all federal, state, and local government elections. The right is legislated in different Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and each Amendment pertains to reapportionment of congressional districts, race, age, or gender. For example the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it pertains to the right to vote reads, "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers…. The basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State." U.S. Const., amend. XIV, sec. II. Next, the Fifteenth Amendment, prohibits the states from denying a person to vote based on her race or color. The text of the Amendment reads, "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." U.S. Const., amend. XV, sec .I. In the same manner, the right to vote is discussed in the Nineteenth Amendment as it pertains to the gender of the voter. The text reads as follows, "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." U.S. Const., amend XIX.

As the law developed and the country changed, the voting laws changed as well. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution eliminated the obligation to pay a poll tax as a condition to vote.

The text of the Amendment reads, "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." U.S. Const., amend XXIV, sec. I.

The final Amendment to the U.S. Constitution regarding the right to vote is the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. This Amendment granted the general right to vote to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 years. Prior to the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, the right to vote existed and different groups were included in this right to vote, but in the other Amendments addressed, the right to vote was not explicitly stated for all U.S. citizens. The text of the Twenty-First Amendment clearly and plainly reads, "The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age." U.S. Const., amend XXI., sec. 1. As the Amendments indicate, the right to vote changed over the years. Since the Constitutional amendments were enacted, the right to vote has continued to evolve and laws pertaining to voting have developed as a result. The purpose of this report is, not only to right to vote, but how the laws, regarding voting, elections, and the media interact with one another. Following is a summary of these fundamental Amendments that are central to the right to vote in the United States.

2. Summary of the Voting Amendments

Amendment

Year Enacted

Summary

14th

Provided for the requirement that voting districts be apportioned according to population; set the voting at 21 years for all males

15th

Outlawed using race as a prohibition to voting

19th

1920

Granted women the right to vote

24th

1964

Outlawed the poll tax

26th

1971

Granted all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote. Lowered the voting age.

3. The Principle of One Man One Vote

The principle of one man, one vote limit's the right of a citizen to vote one time per election and prevents dilution of one's vote by ensuring that the voting districts are equally populated. If one voting district's population is disproportionate to another, the Congress must reapportion or reassign the voting districts to make the more equal. U.S. Const., art I, sec. 2. The one man one vote principle was addressed by the Supreme Court in the case of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964).

In this case, the appellees (originally the plaintiffs) alleged discrimination by stating that their districts had grown considerably more than the surrounding districts. The appellees requested that their voting districts be reapportioned according to the State of Alabama Constitution which provided that "apportionment of seats in both houses of the Alabama Legislature should be on a population basis." All parties involved agreed that the situation as it stood violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that the petitioners' votes were diluted by the overpopulation in their districts. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that "both houses of a state legislature be apportioned on a population basis and it does not mean that States cannot adopt some reasonable plan for periodic revision of their apportionment schemes." Still, the legislature failed to reapportion its district accordingly.

The issue that the Court decided was whether the District Court by ordering the Alabama legislature to reapportion itself went beyond its powers as granted by the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that the reapportionment of both houses of the Alabama legislature, which was ordered by the district that was previously, was an appropriate and well-considered exercise of judicial power since the legislature had failed to reapportion the voting districts according to the population change. The Court with its ruling confirmed the Constitutional principle that the congressional representatives of each district be apportioned according to the population of the district. In other words, the larger districts will be entitled to a proportionate amount of representatives in Congress. In this way, the dilution of the vote principle is avoided.

4. The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a law enacted at the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

The following provisions are included in the Voting Rights Act: 1) Prohibition of any election law that denied or obstructed voting rights based on race or color. 2) Suspension of all literacy tests. 3) Prohibition on the enforcement of new voting rules or laws that would continue discrimination. 4) Assignment federal poll workers to list qualified applicants to vote and monitor polls. (Laney 11). This Act was designed to curtail the widespread discrimination that was occurring regarding African-American voting rights. The practices that were in place prior to the Voting Rights Act, literacy tests for example, resulted in restricting access to the polls by African-Americans because a disproportionate number of African-Americans were unable to score the required standard on the literacy tests. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed current literacy tests and as well as any discriminatory practices that could be implemented in the future. The following chart summarizes the percentage of eligible registered African-American voters in the years preceding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and in the years following the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

5. Percentage of Registered African-American Voters before and After the Voting Rights Act

State

1956

1960

1962

1964

1966

1968

Alabama

11%

13.7%

13.4%

23%

51.2%

56.7%

Arkansas

36%

37.3%

34%

49.3%

59.7%

67.5%

Florida

32%

38.9%

36.8%

63.8%

60.9%

62.1%

Georgia

27%

29.3%

26.7%

44%

47.2%

62.1%

Louisiana

31%

30.9%

27.8%

32%

47.1%

59.3%

Mississippi

5%

5.2%

5.3%

6.7%

32.9%

59.4%

No. Carolina

24%

38.1%

35.8%

46.8%

51%

55.3%

So. Carolina

27%

15.6%

22.9%

38.7%

51.4%

50.8%

State

1956

1960

1962

1964

1966

1968

Tennessee

29%

58.9%

49.8%

69.4%

71.7%

72.8%

Texas

37%

34.9%

37.3%

57.7%

61.6%

83.1%

Virginia

19%

22.8%

24%

45.7%

46.9%

58.4%

All Southern States

24.1%

29.1%

29.4%

43.1%

52.2%

62%

(Garrow 11, 19, 189).

Based on the above summary, the total of registered African-American voters increased after the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 from 24.1% in 1956 to 62% in 1968. During these years, the percentage of African-American voters increased in every state -- in some cases it more than doubled, as in the case of North Carolina. In some states, it increased by five times as in the case of Alabama.

One interesting observation to be made is that in some states, in light of the progression of the Civil Rights Movement, the percentage of registered African-American voters did not increase steadily from the years of 1956 to 1968. For example, in Louisiana in 1956, the percentage of African-American voters in 1956 was 31% but had decreased in 1962 over 3% to 27.8%. Arkansas showed a similar decrease during this time of 2%, Georgia of approximately 1%, and South Carolina of over 4%. Each of…