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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video, we're gonna do a brief overview of how amendments to the Constitution and federal legislation have increased voting rights over time. Now, why does this matter? Apart from just the innate value of voting rights in a democracy, it matter because who participates in the political process at any one time affects what political outcomes are. So, as we go through these amendments and laws which increase voting rights, think about how each new group of voters might affect the overall opinion of the voting population. The first major expansion of voting rights happened in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was ratified. And the 15th Amendment extended suffrage, the right to vote, to African American men and men in particular, at the time women were also hoping to get the right to vote but there really was only the political will to grand suffrage to African American men. Now, this happened immediately after the Civil War, which ended in 1865, and before the Civil War really only white men had the right to vote. Now, the Civil War ended slavery but it didn't clear up the question of what the legal citizenship status of formerly enslaved men and women would be and a lot of states in the south passed laws after the Civil War specifically denying the right to vote to African American men. So, in 1870, Congress kind of fought back against this and then they passed the 15th Amendment which was then ratified by the states. The next notable expansion of voting rights didn't concern so much who got to vote as who people got to vote for. In 1913 the states ratified the 17th Amendment which provided for the popular election of senators. So, before 1913, senators were actually appointed by state legislatures instead of directly elected by citizens like members of the House of Representatives. And switching to popular election of senators is important because it gives citizens more say over the national government. So, more say over who goes into Congress and therefore more say over what kinds of laws that Congress passes. And in 1920, women finally got the right to vote in the 19th Amendment, which doubled the voting eligible population. Now let's talk about some more recent voting rights amendments and laws. In 1964 and 1965 there were two amendments and pieces of federal legislation that had a major impact on African American voting rights. Now, although African American men technically got the right to vote in 1870, African American women technically got the right to vote in 1920, there were a number of measures of voter suppression enacted in southern states that effectively prevented them from voting. One of these was the use of poll taxes which is effectively paying money for the right to vote. The 24th Amendment outlawed that and then the Voting Rights Act took that a step further by adding a number of other bans on voter suppression tactics in southern states. So, in addition to poll taxes, the Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests and forms of voter suppression like grandfather clauses which were laws that said you could only vote if your grandfather had voted. And while you might think, oh, literacy tests don't sound that bad, seems like a good idea to have a literate voting population, literacy tests really weren't fair because they were administered by local voting boards who got to decide who was and was not literate, so if you were an African American man you could have been a Pulitzer Prize winning author and still had your local board say, oh, you're not literate soy you're not eligible to vote. So, things like poll taxes and literacy tests and grandfather clauses, nowhere in the language of these voting laws did they say you can't vote if you're black but they were very carefully crafted to specifically single out and suppress the votes of African Americans. The Voting Rights Act also provided for federal examiners who had the power to register people to vote, to monitor elections in jurisdictions that had large black populations but few registered black voters. And this effort was enormously successful. By the end of 1965, 250,000 new African American voters had been registered in southern states. So, imagine how all of these new participants might change legislative outcomes. Okay, there are two more things I'd like to discuss. Now, one aspect of voting rights you might not have heard of is that until 1971, when the 26th Amendment was ratified, you had to be 21 years old to vote. Now, you can kinda guess at the reason behind this amendment based on its year. In 1971 the United States was involved in the Vietnam war and young men were being drafted. So, it would have been possible to be drafted for the U.S. Army at age 18 without ever having cast a vote. It's amazing to think that the right to vote for 18 year olds is less than 50 years old. The last piece of legislation that I want to talk about is the Motor Voter Act which was passed in 1993. The official name of this was the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 but it's called the Motor Voter Act because it requires states to provide individuals with the opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's license. So, this makes it easier to register to vote in the first place and it makes it easier to maintain your voter registration if you move to a new state because you'll need to get a new driver's license so you can quickly make sure you get on the polls to vote in your new state. The Motor Voter Act also requires states to allow individuals to register by mail 30 days before a federal election and to allow individuals to register to vote if they're going to an office providing services to people with disabilities or public assistance. So, in general, the Motor Voter Act makes it easier for people to get registered to vote and to stay registered to vote. So, it kinda removes barriers to political participation. So, I know there's a lot of information here, it's a lot to take in, but the biggest thing to take away from this, again, is how participation affects outcomes. Who gets to vote, and more importantly who does vote in any given election, has an enormous impact on what kinds of politicians we elect and what kind of policies they enact.