Since the election is only 3 weeks away, I was wondering about the history of voting rights in the US.
As I understand it, in the early days of the United States, voting was limited to white men who also held property. However, as today, the laws then also varied by state. So the first question that arises is whether there were any voting restrictions based on national origin or religion on land-owning white men? Also, when could all white men, whether land-owners or paupers, vote in all states?
The last group to get voting rights in the US were African Americans in the deep South. That I know a bit about. But what about northern states or western ones? Also, in the age of slavery, could free blacks vote in the US?
Talking about minorities, for a long time Native Americans were considered sovereign, though usually without much in the way of rights, and hence not citizens. When did that change specifically regarding voting?
Did other minorities (Hawaiians, Asians, Mexicans, etc.) have any problems with voting rights?
Women got the right to vote in most democracies in the early part of the 20th century (the Siwss being the major exception as usual). I believe the 19th amendment gave that right to the women in the US in 1920. But didn’t some states allow women to vote in local elections even in the late 19th century?
Since the US constitution is one of the older democratic constitutions, it has some features which would never be put in a modern constitution.
One of those features is leaving voting rights to the states. This has some interesting consequences. The disenfranchisement of the Washington DC residents in Congressional elections is the first example that comes to mind. Why shouldn’t the residents of the city where Congress resides be able to vote for their own representatives? It just sounds crazy.
The electoral college is another strange idea left over from the 18th century. I don’t particularly mind the different weighting given to different states for the Presidential election. I would prefer popular election of the President with an instant runoff system, but in a federal system, some attention has to be paid to states as well. What bugs me is that the constitution allows a lot of leeway regarding the electors. State legislatures can, if they wish, nominate a slate of electors completely different in party affiliation from the popular vote in that state. Plus an elector is free to vote for whoever he wants regardless of the wishes of the voters of that state. These are big loopholes in the constitution.
While the Voting Rights Act improved the voting rights situation quite a lot, the US still doesn’t really give the right to vote to all its citizens. Over a dozen states bar felons from voting permanently. Most states have some form of disenfranchisement of (ex-)felons. The only exceptions are Vermont and Maine. Being from Pakistan, these laws seem to me to have a large potential for abuse. I believe in an absolute right to vote for all citizens. Anything less can be used by a corrupt justice system or government to disqualify its opponents.
While no one today would argue about giving the federal vote to non-citizens, it is not so far-fetched as some people suppose.
[T]he United States has a long history of allowing noncitizens to vote. Twenty-two states and federal territories at various times allowed noncitizens to vote – even as blacks and women were barred from the ballot box – in the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Concerns about the radicalism of immigrants arriving from southern and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led states to restrict such voting rights. By 1928, voting at every level had been restricted to United States citizens.
In recent years, there has been some movement towards giving municipal voting rights to non-citizens.
UPDATE: Spurred by Gary Farber, I have answered some of my own questions in the comments.