A history of the right to vote in America.
Since the nation’s founding, many Americans have been uneasy about democracy. Law and policy expert Waldman (The Second Amendment: A Biography, 2014, etc.), president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, offers a compelling—and disheartening—history of voting in America, from provisions of the Constitution to current debates about voting rights and campaign financing. In the Colonies, only white male property holders could vote and did so in public, by voice. With bribery and intimidation rampant, few made the effort. After the Revolution, many states eliminated property requirements so that men over 21 who had served in the militia could vote. But leaving voting rules to the states disturbed some lawmakers, inciting a clash between those who wanted to restrict voting and those “who sought greater democracy.” That clash fueled future debates about allowing freed slaves, immigrants, and, eventually, women to vote. In 1878, one leading intellectual railed against universal suffrage, fearing rule by “an ignorant proletariat and a half-taught plutocracy.” Voting corruption persisted in the 19th century, when adoption of the secret ballot “made it easier to stuff the ballot box” by adding “as many new votes as proved necessary.” Southern states enacted disenfranchising measures, undermining the 15th Amendment. Waldman traces the campaign for women’s suffrage; the Supreme Court’s dismal record on voting issues (including Citizens United); and the contentious fight to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “became a touchstone of consensus between Democrats and Republicans” and was reauthorized four times before the Supreme Court “eviscerated it in 2013.” Despite increased access to voting, over the years, turnout has fallen precipitously, and “entrenched groups, fearing change, have…tried to reduce the opportunity for political participation and power.” Waldman urges citizens to find a way to celebrate democracy and reinvigorate political engagement for all.
A timely contribution to the discussion of a crucial issue.