Our founding fathers gave us, the citizens of these United States, a way to make our wishes known by creating a system of voting for our representatives. The original system was not perfect. It started out that only white, male citizens of at least 21-years of age could vote. In 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave African American men the right to vote, declaring 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.”
It took 144 years to give women the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. And in 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that was designed to strengthen the 15th Amendment by specifically prohibiting racial discrimination.
A study by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranked countries with a voting process by voter turnout, averaging voter participation in regular elections between 1945 and 2001. Australia ranked number one out of 169 countries studied with a voter turnout of 94.5%. The United States ranked at number 120 out of 169 countries with a voter turnout of 66.5%. We are listed between number 119, the Dominican Republic, which averaged 66.6%. and Benin (West Africa) at 121with 65.9%.
Let’s go back to “Freedom Summer of 1964” in Mississippi. These images are a good reminder that the right to vote, guaranteed by law, came to some citizens only after a dear price was paid:
And did San Franciscans really care about what was happening in Mississippi in 1964? According to Bruce Watson, author of the book Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy (Penguin, © 2010), three dozen volunteers from the San Francisco Bay Area joined 700 students from all over the country who went to Mississippi to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Their goals were to register black voters and set up Freedom Schools for black children whose education suffered in segregated Mississippi.
In November of 1964, we held the 45th quadrennial presidential election in our country. Here is the Universal Newsreel video clip with an overview of both presidential candidates in November 1964:
President Lyndon Johnson was elected with 61.05% of the vote to Senator Barry Goldwater’s 38.47%. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.