September may seem like an odd time to think about voting, but I was helping my nephew with his U.S. history assignment on voting and I became very excited about the process. My nephew and I discussed things such as legal obstacles, intimidation and violence used to deny citizens their vote in the past. Some states used such means as poll taxes, literacy tests, property ownership qualifications, and whites-only primaries to deny citizens their right to vote. Our country has come a long way since those times. Some say there is still progress to be made, but few deny the progress that has already been accomplished.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibits denying a citizen the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. To enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress passed the Enforcement Act of 1870, which made it a crime for public officers and private citizens to obstruct an individual’s voting rights.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits denying any United States citizen the right to vote on the basis of sex. It guaranteed women the right to vote. By 1920 when the amendment was ratified, women had already won the right to vote in many state elections, but the amendment made their right to vote in all state and national elections constitutional.
The poll tax was a fee paid by a voter before he could vote. Poll taxes appeared in southern states as a means to prevent African Americans from voting. The fee was high enough that most poor were unable to pay the tax and therefore unable to vote. The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a tax. It was ratified in 1964.
Literacy tests required voters to demonstrate a certain level of learning proficiency before voting. In some cases, the test was 20 pages long. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests and authorized the federal government to oversee voter registration and elections in counties that had used voter eligibility tests.
Requirements for voting in the state of Indiana are: be a citizen of the United States; be a resident in the precinct at least 30 days before the election in which you will be voting; be at least 18 years of age on the day of the next general election; not currently in jail or prison for a criminal conviction; registered to vote. Indiana state law permits convicted felons to register to vote or to resume voting when they are released from incarceration. Many convicted felons don’t realize that they are entitled to vote, and therefore miss the opportunity.
There are various ways to vote: in person during early voting, in person at a polling site on Election Day, absentee by mail, absentee ballot by traveling board. If your address or name has changed, update your registration records now so that you are registered correctly at your polling site when it’s time to vote. If you are confined to your home or plan to be out of the area at voting time, request an application for absentee voting. An acceptable photo ID is required to vote in person. Acceptable IDs include U.S. passports, military IDs, Indiana driver’s licenses and BMV-issued ID cards. If you don’t have funds to purchase a BMV-issued ID card for voting, ask the BMV about a free ID card.
To check your assigned voting location, contact the Allen County Election Board. The office is located at 1 W. Superior Street, in Fort Wayne, IN. The Election Board’s website is www.allencountyvoters.info. Contact them with any questions you have about voting in Allen County.
Regardless of circumstances, we are all equal when voting. It doesn’t matter what your IQ, race, sex or financial status is. We all have the opportunity to express ourselves through our vote. It is so important for citizens who are in dire need of assistance, to vote and thus allow their voices to be heard.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee