Let's Recommit to Equal Voting Rights
The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. Section 1 reads, simply:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The Amendment was part of a chain of post-Civil War actions designed to put African Americans on more equal footing with others. (Other men, at least, since women weren't granted the right to vote until 1920.) The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th guaranteed citizenship. On the face of it, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution represented the core trifecta of freedom: ending slavery, granting citizenship, and ensuring the right to vote.
But the ratification of the 15th Amendment represented a beginning, not an end. Not long after, in the Compromise of 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes traded away Reconstruction and protection of African American rights in exchange for the office of President. This led to the advent of Jim Crow laws and other oppressive tactics designed to limit African American participation in, and influence on, government in the South. It wasn't until almost a century later that the 24th Amendment (ending poll taxes) and the Voting Rights Act were passed, bolstering the right to vote which had been granted in the 15th Amendment.
Despite the simplicity of the 15th Amendment, both in principle and in wording, voting rights remain far from settled. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted by the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby v Holder, a decision which was praised by the man likely to be the next US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. And though literacy tests and poll taxes have been invalidated, other covert voter suppression tools such as voter ID requirements have taken their place.
Right now, there are hundreds of bills pending in state legislatures across the country which would limit voting hours and locations, as well as who can access the polls. The outcomes of these measures will have a significant impact on upcoming elections at all levels of government.
This cannot be a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people, until politicians have to answer to all the people. At Equality Rules, we're fighting to ensure that every citizen can exercise his or her right to vote.
So let's honor the anniversary of the 15th Amendment's ratification. But rather than looking backward, let's move forward by making a renewed commitment to equality in voting rights.