History of the Black Vote-The Orlando Times
Not that long ago, African-Americans did not even have the right to vote. But today, Black voters have emerged as a strong political force that are being intensely pursued by politicians in every level of government.
In 2020, they are likely to account for at least one out of every four ballots cast in the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, more than tripling — and perhaps even quadrupling — the share they accounted for just a few decades ago, according to NBC news.
However, before African Americans could make up 24 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2016- with that number expected to climb in 2020-it took decades of sacrifice and hard work for Blacks to be able to vote.
A terrible and bloody Civil War freed enslaved Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) granted African Americans the rights of citizenship. However, this did not always translate into the ability to vote, explained the Library of Congress.
Black voters were systematically turned away from state polling places. To combat this problem, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870.
Nevertheless, intimidation and fraud were used to stop voter registration and voter turnout. Additionally, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, white-only primaries, vouchers of “good character” and literacy tests were just some of the rules that were instituted to keep African Americans from the voting booths. When that didn’t work, they threatened and took the lives of those trying to exercise their right.
According to the Miami Herald, while some of these laws were struck down — the Supreme Court ruled grandfather clauses were unconstitutional in 1915 in Guinn v. United States — a full 50 years after the 15th Amendment passed, Black Americans still found it difficult to vote, especially in the South. The fight for African American suffrage raged on for decades.
Many brave and impassioned Americans protested, marched, were arrested and even died working toward voting equality. After which, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements. Also, in 1964: the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, abolishing poll taxes in federal elections.
President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal law that banned racial discrimination in voting nationwide and banned all literacy tests. It created a significant change in the status of African Americans. Prior to this, only an estimated twenty-three percent of voting-age Blacks were registered nationally, but by 1969 the number had jumped to sixty-one percent.
Unfortunately, a 2013 Supreme Court Case (Shelby County v. Holder) ruled to roll back the Voting Rights Act, due to two provisions. (1) Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and (2) Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.
Some critics have said that the ruling has made it easier for state officials to make it harder for Black and other minority voters to vote. Five years after the ruling, nearly 1,000 polling places had been closed in the U.S., with many of the closed polling places in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that the changing of voter locations and reduction in voting locations can reduce voter turnout. There were also cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls and imposition of strict voter ID laws.
Brooking.edu also reported that, voter disenfranchisement and suppression as well as gerrymandering are major factors still affecting Black, Hispanic, and Asian voter turnout. They referenced the Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who put over 50,000 voter registrations on hold, 70% of which were from Black residents. Regarding voter disenfranchisement, they reported that several states with large and growing Black and Hispanic populations closed polling places: Texas closed over 400, Arizona closed over 200, and the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina collectively have closed over 250 polling places.
Many also argue against felons losing their right to vote, with African-Americans disproportionally affected since they make up 34 percent of the correctional population (2014). While some states, including Florida, have passed amendments that would allow felons to vote once they served their time, many are upset that the felons are expected to pay off all their court fines and legal fees before their rights are restored.
Furthermore, the Pew Research Center reports that while a record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, the Black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012.
Despite such challenges, many are hopeful that African-American voter turnout will increase again. In Florida, early voting has already begun for Orlando Mayor and various Commissioner seats, Election Day is November 5th.
With local elections coming up next month and the 2020 Presidential election around the corner, it is imperative to look back at the hard work and sacrifices made by those who dared to go beyond the norm, who dared to make their voices heard, who dared to exercise their right to vote. They did this not only for themselves, but to establish a precedent and a give a voice to those who would come after them.