Voting Rights Act
VOTING RIGHTS ACT:
The world has gone through a lot of revolution regarding economics, social and political change. Political change, similar to other areas has become inevitable. The more people become enlightened, the more aspects such as human rights activities, political activities, minority activities and democratic movements begin to take shape. In past days and including the 18th and 19th century, it is only a few people who had voting rights or say in the government. Minority groups were exploited. However, with the coming of constitutional reforms, things have changed, and political stand in the world has become more and more inclusive of ideas from the citizens and other stake holders. The voting right or say in government has had positive impact including the elimination of racial segregation, exploitation of the minority group, changes of a dictatorship to a more democratic government among others (Belknap, 1991). The paper aims to discuss the voting rights vested among the citizens of the world in a variety of government.
The twenty-first century generation has lived to enjoy relative peace and benefits of stable democratic forms of government at various levels; urban government, state government and other levels of administration. The many freedoms enjoyed and rights guaranteed to the people in the constitution are just but examples of the benefits of these democratic governments. It is safe to say that many developments both economic and social have been realized as a result of a good and successful democratic form of government (Garrow, 1978). However, this may not totally mean that there no challenges in this forms of government, no system of government can be perfect just as no human being can be considered perfect in any society. There various challenges but a comparison with the previous forms of governments and administration will credit our current democratic form of government. It is also important to note that one of the main pillars of this form of government, the introduction of voting rights.
The Voting Rights Act in simple terms is a piece of legislation or federal law that forbids any discrimination and especially racial discrimination among the citizens of the country in voting (Grofman, 1992). It is the act that has brought about a revolution of positive changes not only in the government systems but also in the general public in our society. This is also confirmed by the United States Department of Justice which considers The Voting Rights Act as the most effective piece of legislation on civil rights ever passed in the country. The act was realized after a long period of civil unrest in the United States where many civil rights movements were taking place championing for voting rights for the racial minorities in the country which at that time were highly discriminated from voting. The civil unrest was characterized with violence an abuse of human rights of the minority communities and those who were championing for an end in the discrimination. The protests and solidarity marching mostly ended up in violent confrontations between the activists and the police. One of such cases was the famous ‘’Bloody Sunday’’ in Alabama the year 1965 when the Alabama police attacked voting rights marchers who were participating in one of Selma To Montgomery marches. The Alabama police are reported to have violently attacked the unarmed marches to try to stop them that many lives were lost in the process. It is at that height of the civil rights movement that The Voting Rights Act was for the first time signed into law by the then President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Previously, the state government, urban government and other levels of administration had no such clear legislature that guaranteed the minority communities their right to participate in a voting exercise. The then United States Constitution allowed each full state authority to evaluate and determine qualifications of voters for its residents. However, this was a big challenge as there were no clear and fair regulations or evaluation and determination procedures that respected the rights of all citizens. The then state governments had been formed in an unclear democratic manner and were, therefore, dispensing the same to the public. The government officials in those states had been discriminatingly appointed and with hatred and luck of respect towards the minority communities did all they could do to satisfy their selfish personal needs. Some of these state governments went as far as coming up with various qualification requirements that were too high for the minor communities and especially the African- Americans in the South.
From the year eighteen sixty-eight to eighteen eighty-eight, the state governments, especially in the entire south, had tough regulations that clearly locked out the minor communities from participating in any voting exercise. For example, southern states went as far as legalizing disenfranchisement by passing some laws that were referred to as Jim Crow laws. These laws posed many voting restrictions including property-ownership requirements, literacy tests, moral character test, poll taxes, some other requirements were that those applying for voter registration be able to interpret certain documents. As this was not enough, applicants were also required to present proof of their grandfathers previous voting as an eligibility to qualify them too to vote. This was almost unachievable for the African-Americans whose grandparents at that time had not participated from any voting activity as they had been serving as slaves. These restrictions were a clear cutout and scheme to lock out the minority communities to vote. Besides these, any person who tried to go against these regulations or try protest against the laws was harshly punished and considered a criminal. By this time, even the judiciary had no authority to push their state governments to register these minority communities to participate in voting exercises. This situation left the minority communities with no hope or viable solution to their discrimination ordeal except to go to the streets to protest.
During this period, the federal government too had no powers to force the other governments to enforce voting for all. In fact, the federal government too enjoyed the products of this discrimination as it comprised elected members who had been voted in under these laws that were discriminating. A t this point, we get to know that not only was the state and other governments operating in discrimination but also the state government. This is clear logic because the same state government and other officials from the governments who enacted these heinous laws are the ones who were also part of the federal government. Therefore, we can see how it would have been difficult for the same people to champion or a different cause that goes against their policies at grass root levels. Just as it is said that a bad tree will always give forth bad fruits, there were no better results that we could have expected in such kind of government officials. They made everything possible also to corrupt the federal government in a way that the federal government too had a blind eye on the rights of its citizens regarding voting rights. These prompted the civil rights movement to increase more pressure towards the federal government to protect bring an end to this discrimination and enact fair voting rights for the minority communities (Lawson, 1978). In the year, 1957 saw Congress passing the first law on rights of voting since Reconstruction. Even though, the law was not effective enough to completely overturn the dire situation at that time. Since then many other amendments on human rights were made but still could not change the situation. Not until 1965 when The Voting Rights Act was first signed in to law as a federal legislation.
A close examination of the various government levels at that time including the federal, urban and other governments shows clear laps in protecting the rights of the citizens (Lawson, 1976). As Stated in the Constitution, it’s the responsibility of the government at whatever level to ensure the citizens enjoy their rights as another human being without any form of discrimination (Valle, 2003). However, we see a dormant and reluctant government that lacks the willingness to protect the rights of all citizens with fairness and equality. It is fair to admit that there might have been other contributing factors to this discrimination. For instance, the governments of the time had just witnessed the worst slavery of the century and were still trying to move over it. Furthermore, there was a high level of illiteracy among the general public and a small percentage recognized the need for equal rights and fair treatment among the citizens.
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 abolished long-existing discrimination in voting among the African-Americans in the United States. It prohibited various levels of governments including the state governments from creating tough voting prerequisites such as illiteracy that for a long time had been used as a requirement to lock out these minority communities. It also created a fair system where by the federal government had powers to approve any changes made by the state government concerning the voting requirements. This was mostly affected on the states that had a bad history of voter discrimination on the African-Americans. The message was becoming clear to everyone that with racial segregation, there was the absolute absence of democracy. At this point, the state governments had to work in conjunction with the policies of the federal government. In other words, all state governments were to work uniformly in conjunction with the federal government’s regulations. Policies and laws especially touching on human rights were not to be locally formulated without the conscience of the federal government. All these efforts were made to lay down a foundation for effective implementation of the Voting Rights Act.
The Act contains other provisions that help regulate the administration of any election. This includes prohibiting State governments from enacting any law that might in any way discriminate any person on the racial basis from participating in a voting exercise. The state governments is also required not to implement any change affecting voting until they get approval from the District Court or the Attorney General of the United States. Another special provision requirement was that the state governments provide necessary election materials including bilingual ballots for the minority population with a significant language. The act also prohibits any jurisdiction by the state government to implement any law that requires literacy when it comes to the right to vote. No test on literacy was to be conducted as a requirement for an eligible voter. Until the 2006 ratification on the Act, it allowed the appointment of examiners from the federal government to oversee some activities as the voter registration whereby they had jurisdiction to examine registration application for voters, register voters and maintaining voter rolls. These and more provisions and amendments of the Voting Rights Act were meant to bring equality and fairness among the American citizens not respecting color or origin (Zelden, 2002).
The enactment of the voting rights has brought a whole complete change in the United States. For instance, as a result of the act, many people including the African-American registered as voters and begun exercising their right to vote. The right to vote is an essential human right that also determines the government and the future of the nation. It is only through voting that good leaders can be voted in, and bad leaders replaced. This Act has so far shaped the various levels of government by changing the majority rule to inclusivity rule. It brought a sense of self-identity among the citizens and gave them the power to form a government of their choice through voting. It has greatly helped government officials to realize the need to respect the rights of all citizens as they are the ones with the final determination; either to vote you in or vote you out. It has also shaped the way other laws are being enacted both in the local and state government level. All efforts are being made by all governments to make laws that respect and affect all citizens equally without any form of discrimination.
ConclusionIn conclusion, political change in the world’s governments has been very crucial. This had included the rights to vote. The Voting Rights Act has totally led to a lot of changes in the various levels of government in the country. These changes have gone beyond the social benefit of enjoying a human right. It goes beyond the decrease in racial segregation or the feeling of respect, acceptance and recognition in the United States by minority communities as citizens and part of the America society. The Act has changed how the various levels of governments operate as it gives the citizens more powers over the government. Consequently, all levels of government are made to operate in the interest of the citizens who voted them in.
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Lawson, S. (1974). Give us the ballot: The expansion of Black voting rights in the South, 1944-1969.
Valle, S. (2003). Language rights and the law in the United States finding our voices. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Zelden, C. (2002). Voting rights on trial a handbook with cases, laws, and documents. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.