“I have come to see more and more that one of the most decisive steps that the Negro can take is that little walk to the voting booth. That is an important step. We’ve got to gain the ballot, and through that gain, political power.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 1, 1957
Amendment XV (the Fifteenth Amendment) of the United States Constitution provides that governments in the United States may not prevent a citizen from voting based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude (i.e. slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870. This decision allowed Black men to vote; but Jim Crow laws and other prohibiting factors stymied the Black vote until 1965.
Today, the right to vote is a fundamental civil right in the Unites States; granted to African Americans after the Voting Rights Act in 1965; which outlawed many of the practices that were previously used to keep black people from exercising their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act came up for ratification in 2009. The Supreme Court extended the act though it is suggested that the ratification clause may eventually be struck down as unnecessary as it appears the Court now believes that there should be no distinction made between the voting rights of black and white United States citizens.
Historically the right to vote has also impacted women, immigrants and ex-offenders. The national right for the women’s vote came in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Also, immigrants who have become naturalized citizens have the right to vote in all elections. In most states, prisoners are not allowed to vote while they are in jail or prison. Once they are released they may lose the right to vote either temporarily or permanently. Ex-offenders can appeal to have their voting rights restored if they are pardoned by the governor or legislative state authority.
As the daughter of Rev. A. D. King and his wife Naomi, I can well remember the struggles over the vote in the mid-20th century. Men like my father, my grandfather Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and my famous uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as brave women fought hard to further establish the Black Vote. Many people have fought and died to maintain the privilege and right for Black citizens of the U. S. to vote. So not voting is not an option.
There are more than two candidates on the upcoming ballots. We can vote for the candidate who most clearly reflects our values. We can vote for one of the two popular candidates, or we can write in the candidate of our choice. Some consider the write in option as a wasted effort, not a vote. What is a waste is to not respect the efforts of those who fought and sometimes died for our right to vote.
Beyond the obvious presidential candidates, we must also vote down ballot. Whatever we decide to do, we must surely honor those who have gone before us. We must cast our ballots and not cast away our confidence in God.