Voting Right Paper US Politics and Government

Voting Right Paper US Politics and Government

Jonathan Lopez

Karen Struening


US Politics & Government


Section M8


The right to vote is a critical element in American Democracy as it gives people power in their government system. It is a right given to us by the founding fathers to make sure it goes along with the checks and balance system they instituted in with the constitution when forming the three branches of government. However, a problem arises in the American government and that problem is what powers do each level of government has. Boundaries have been set to try and remedy this problem by dictating where each level of government can act upon with their powers granted by the Constitution. Examples of these distinctions are that the Federal government has control of trade on the global scale and between states but has no power in those states officially. Meanwhile, states are left to run itself as problems vary from state to state. But what happens when a national right is infringed in a state via indirect means. This leads to the question of “Should the federal government be involved in reviewing the voting policy of specific states or not?” The answer to this question is yes as throughout US history, what being an American has changed in terms of meaning and who is an American. The founding of the United States was not only of the struggle of white colonists but also African slaves who were forced to give up their lives and humanity to serve the revolutionist’s needs. The idea of who is an American really didn’t pop up until the Civil War era where there was a conflicting ideology of who should be counted as people or property and this served as a big highlight of racial injustice. 

The victory of the Union and the ratification of the 14th Amendment was meant to be an answer to the question of federal involvement, but instead opened a pandora box of sorts where a lot problems soon rose from these changes but along with all the negativity came hope to truly be fair. All the negativity that came after the ratification of the 14th amendment came in the form of civil inequality. Even though slaves could not officially exist in the US, freed slaves were still treated as if they were still shackled. Black codes were imposed in the former confederate states to keep slavery alive as it was the bulk of their economic status. Black codes were laws that took advantage of the slaves by using the fact they owned nothing against them. According to, they not that “Black codes were restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of African Americans and ensure their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished during the Civil War.” Former Confederate states made their own black codes but all served the purpose of keeping blacks subjugated with examples of a black code comes from South Carolina where “a law prohibited blacks from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax of $10 to $100.” as notes. If any of the black codes laws were broken, the offender is to be subjected to arrest, beatings, surrender earned wages and much more. These actions essentially defeated the purpose of the Civil War as the freedom of slaves was taken away by former confederate supporting the stance of the Federal government and its involvement in reviewing policies for states. These abridging of rights also adds fuel to the conflict of state vs federal as the states tried to go against the fundamental rights of the new Americans. However, change was coming to solve this new issue.

The ratification of the 14th and 15th amendment were two major steps to provide true equality to all Americans. The role of the 14th amendment prevented states from placing any restrictions on civil rights and liberties as states are known to do. The 15th amendment took this a step further by not permitting any laws that restrict voting based on skin color or if you were a former slave. These two laws were meant to lead the US to true equality among all Americans and seemed to do so until in the 1960s where the current situation was analyzed and a new problem arises despite the amount of laws and changes put into place. However this time those affected who were black Americans of slavery descent fought back in the form of the Civil Rights Movement. They rose to the challenge of these problems materialized in the form of legally restricting voting yet again in various ways such as literacy tests, required photo ID, poll taxes and much more across states that still attempted to limit who can vote and this affected everyone as stated in the New York Times article “A Dream Undone” where it mentions that Henry Frye who served as the first black Chief of Justice of North Carolina, was denied the right to vote on his wedding day because of a literacy test. This was hurting any and everyone black US citizens but soon a major change happened in the style of a new act titled the Voting Rights Act. Specifically sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act where the federal government challenged discriminatory states directly and put a new rule on them called Preclearance. Preclearance was a major move where the states cannot make any changes to voting laws and policies without the federal government permission and when the Voting Rights Act was put into effect in 1965, it was meant to last 5 years but was extended over and over until it in effect into today. 

All these laws passed to give everyone an equal opportunity to vote because of events that have transpired in the past leads to a new question, do we still need all these laws and policies in modern times? This comes from the idea of today’s society and how it is much better than the past and how now these laws are permitting the federal government to exceed its power granted by the Constitution. This question was brought to the spotlight in 2013 with the Supreme Court case of Shelby v Holder where the sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act were declared unconstitutional. This decision split the nation were two ideals clashed were one stated this decision was correct and finally restored balance to the government while the other side said that this was a bad ruling as we are reverting to the ways of old and allowing voting rights to be taken away. The side that agreed with the decision used the reasoning that a new era means a new standard and we shouldn’t hold on to decisions that matter half a century ago as the American Enterprise Institute claims. The Federal government should no longer punish states for the past and the Supreme court recognized this and acknowledges that Americans today are finally truly equal. The reasoning of the Justices who voted in shutting down the sections had a reason similar to those who believed that the idea of new times means new standards. Supreme Court Justice member Ginsburg personally wanted to eliminate sections 4 and 5 as it was no longer needed. But the other side did not agree with this and had reasons to think so and wanted to continue using the Voting Rights act. The Brennan Center for Justice notes that when the Voting Rights Act was put into effect in only a decade, the difference between the amount of white and minority voters had a difference less than 30%. Also because many people saw how effective the Act as it was purposefully extended in 2006 to make sure everyone has truly equal rights. 

Citations: Editors. 2010. “Black Codes.” (October 24, 2019).


Rutenburg, Jim. 2015. “A Dream Undone.” The New York Times Magazine.


“Transcript of Voting Rights Act (1965).” Our Documents – Transcript of Voting Rights Act (1965). (October 24, 2019).


“Voting Rights  : Articles and Essays  : Civil Rights History Project  : Digital Collections : Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. (October 24, 2019).


2013 “Reactions to the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling” American Enterprise Institute


2018 “The Effects of Shelby v. Holder” Brennan Center for Justice


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