Voting Rights for Some of the People Some of the Time

Although election day is still two weeks away, for many of us the election is all over but the counting. My ballot was mailed in this week and I’ve already been notified that it has been accepted and counted. State websites that let voters to track their ballots have made life easier for many of us. Thousands of people find it difficult to get to the polls on election day and this year the pandemic has made it dangerous as well as difficult. But not everyone can vote.

Sure you can vote if…

The story of voting in the United States has been a tale of expanding voting rights over the years. The framers of the Constitution could never have imagined that so many people in this country would be allowed to vote. They started out with the idea that a relatively small group of white men 21 years of age or older and substantial members of the community who owned property would be the ones who would go to the polls every four years to choose our leaders.

But many Americans were not content to let men of property determine all the laws. In various states men who did not own farms or other assets began demanding the right to vote. First the rules on property fell. Instead of having to own property or be wealthy, men who were merely respectable members of the community were allowed to vote. In some states, widows and women who owned property were also allowed to cast their ballots.

Finally by the mid-nineteenth century voting rights were extended by Constitutional Amendments which revolutionized the voting roles. On October 16, 2020, Jamelle Bouie wrote a column in the NY Times pointing out that the U.S. Constitution as it stands now was not written by the founding fathers. It has changed over the years especially by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments which guaranteed voting rights to previously enslaved men.

Women in many states were still denied voting rights until the twentieth century. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment changed that so that states could not prohibit women from voting. And in 1965, the Voting Rights Act prohibited many of the measures that states had used to prevent African Americans and other minority groups from voting. The legal age for voting was soon extended to 18-year-olds instead of being limited to people over 21. Thousands of people were added to voting lists.

But states are still making voting difficult for many of us…

Change is not easy. States that were not allowed to charge poll taxes, soon came up with other schemes to make voting more difficult.

In the 2020 election, some states have set up new rules to keep voters from casting a ballot. Texas has ruled that only one ballot drop-off box can be set up in each county. If you don’t live close to a ballot drop-off site, you may have to travel 50 miles or more to get to the one closest to you. If you don’t own a car, you are on your own because there is no public transit offered.  It seems that Texas has decided on a new property requirement for voting. You may not be required to own a cow pasture, but you are required to own a car.  

Voting lines in Miami

And for people who want to vote on Election Day, some states are cutting down on the number of voting sites available. You can vote as long as you are healthy and strong enough to stand in line for six to eight hours. It is hard to believe that this is what the Founding Fathers intended when they planned for a democracy.

The only solution is to cast your vote if you possibly can…

This year when you cast your vote, it is not only a victory for you and the candidates you believe in, it also helps make up for all our fellow citizens who are being denied the right to vote. We owe it to our country to honor the freedom America has always stood for and will continue to stand for only if we use our voting power.

CAST YOUR BALLOT AND PROTEST UNFAIR VOTING RESTRICTIONS!

A Radical Message from a Quiet Voice–Lucretia Mott

Visitors to the Capital Building in Washington D.C. can view an austere marble sculpture featuring three pioneers in the struggle for women’s rights. Standing at the front of the group is a demure women in a Quaker bonnet—Lucretia Mott, a woman whose mild appearance is at odds with the fiery spirit that guided her life. She was a rebel who proclaimed her controversial opinions fiercely and effectively for more than half a century.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott

Born Lucretia Coffin on Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts in 1793, Lucretia became aware of the inequality faced by women while she was still very young. When she began teaching as a 17-year-old, she quickly noticed that the male teachers were paid far more than women were. She never forgot that.

It was while she was teaching that she met her future husband, James Mott. The two were married in 1811 in Philadelphia where her family had moved after leaving Nantucket and its shrinking whaling industry. James started a business and the young couple became active in the Philadelphia Quaker Meeting and soon began raising a family.

At Quaker meetings, unlike most religious groups at that time, women as well as men were allowed to speak to the group. Lucretia was such an inspiring speaker that she was soon appointed a Minister, which among Quakers was an honorary, unpaid position.

Lucretia Mott

The most contentious issue of the day was slavery, and Pennsylvania, a free state bordering two slave states, was in the middle of the debate. Although most Quakers were anti-slavery, they differed in how to support abolition. Some advocated a gradual freeing of slaves, some wanted former slaves to be resettled in Africa. Lucretia soon identified herself as one of the more radical Quakers advocating an immediate end to slavery and a full integration of former slaves into American life. To hasten the end of slavery, Lucretia refused to buy products made or harvested by slaves—sugar from the West Indies and cotton from the Southern slave states—even though her children and her husband sometimes complained about her decision.

As her children grew older, Lucretia was able to devote more of her time to social activism. She worked tirelessly for abolition and helped to found the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society, a group that lasted longer than any other women’s anti-slavery group in America.

In 1838, Lucretia participated in the week-long celebration of the opening of Philadelphia Hall as a major center for anti-slavery groups. Many Philadelphians objected to interracial meetings. Some yelled insults at participants to protest the presence of mixed-race groups in their city. When Lucretia gave her talk to a women’s group, her listeners could hear men and boys gathering outside the hall, threatening violence. The African American women in the audience were even more fearful than the white women that they might be targeted. To protect everyone, all the women, black and white, linked arms and walked outside together. Violence was averted that night, but the struggle was far from over.

The World Anti-Slavery Conference held in London in 1840 marked a turning point in Lucretia Mott’s life. Although she was already an outstanding spokesperson for the anti-slavery movement, neither she nor any of the other women who attended the meeting were allowed to participate in the conference. All of the women were required to sit in a separate section of the room where they could listen to the men make speeches. Despite this slap in the face, Lucretia benefited from attending the meetings because it was there that she met the young Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two soon became close friends.

World Anti-slavery Conference 1840

Together Stanton and Mott organized a meeting in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, a meeting which is usually considered the official start of the campaign for women’s right to vote. At the close of the meeting, both of them signed the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that concluded with these words: 

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

Together Lucretia Mott, the quiet little Quaker, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her more flamboyant friend, energized the women’s rights movement in America for the next half century. Neither of them lived to see women win the right to vote, but neither of them ever gave up the struggle. If you’d like to read more about Lucretia Mott, there is an excellent recent biography by Carol Faulkner called Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America.

As for the sculpture in the Capital that honors women’s rights, that too had a long, painful path to achieve its present position. It was unveiled in 1921, but soon moved to the Crypt of the Capitol where it stood among the brooms and mops stored there. In 1995, women’s groups finally pushed Congress to vote for its return to the Rotunda. And it was finally moved there in 1997.

Winning the right to vote required great courage, persistence, and patience on the part of many women. Like those I mentioned in previous blogs, Abigail Adams, and the Grimke Sisters, Lucretia Mott deserves to be remembered as one of the strongest and most dedicated of the pioneers in women’s suffrage.