Voting in America has a long and colorful history. Our Constitution gave each state the right to determine its own mechanism of voting but with oversight by the federal government. The result has been characterized as a "patchwork" for the states from its inception through complaints of the 2000 election process.
There were differing opinions among the states and territories in determining who had the right to vote. In 1776 during the second Continental Congress, Abigail Adams entreated her husband, John Adams, to "remember the ladies" in the new code of laws he was writing. However, no concern for women's suffrage was evident in the new laws.
The New Jersey State Constitution on July 2, 1776, allowed "all inhabitants ... who are worth fifty pounds" to vote, including women and people of color. But in 1807, that was rewritten to specify only white men. Property requirements continued in 1790 in 10 states, but in 1821, the New York state property requirement was dropped for whites, but "men of color must have for one year a freehold over the value of $250." Property, male gender and color were important determinants.
In 1848, the goal of women's suffrage was expressed at the first Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which she based on the Declaration of Independence. Women had continued to seek equal rights and suffrage from the time of Abigail Adams entreaty until women's rights were recognized and granted.
The words of the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 and the 14th Amendment stated "All persons born in the United States are now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Since the 14th amendment, which gave the rights of citizenship did not specify "women," the Supreme Court in 1874 ruled it did not grant women the right to vote. On Feb. 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. It declared citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Women went to the polls but were still not allowed to vote because the gender-neutral language was not specific. Attention was given to the abolishment of slavery and preservation of the union rather than the right of women's suffrage. Black males were given the right to vote, but in some Southern states, restrictions such as taxes, literacy and residency requirements remained in place to prevent them from voting.
The states and territories continued referendums and voting for or against allowing women the vote or suffrage. One referendum gave Michigan male voters the chance to enfranchise women, but they voted against women's suffrage. Wyoming became the first state to grant women full suffrage rights in 1890. Throughout the nation, women's right to vote remained questionable.
Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state in 1861 and entered the Union as a free state. Women were given the right to vote in school elections. In 1910, Kansas would be the seventh state to give women full suffrage.
On Aug. 19, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing suffrage for women with these words: "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 sex."
Reformers of the system have worked diligently to come up with a system for our country to assist more citizens to vote. Amendments and acts have been enacted for American Indians, black voters, illiterate citizens, those living in Washington, D.C., the right for 18-year-olds to vote, and those with language differences. Accessibility for the elderly, the handicapped and the disabled have been enacted. It was not until 1975 that all Mexican-Americans gained the right to vote.
I firmly believe in the power of my vote. It might not be the one vote that will be responsible for an overwhelming victory, but it still is important. Why do I vote? Because I can. Because I want to. And because I should.
I can: Not every country today offers free, unhampered voting to its citizens. Our country does, regardless of some difficulties with the process; it is primarily legal, available, and without coercion. I am an American citizen, and this is my right.
I want to: I live in the greatest country of the world. It has its problems, but no other country can offer me the advantages of freedom, education, free enterprise and just plain beauty. I am exceedingly thankful that I was born in this country and have had such wonderful opportunities as a citizen.
I should: I have a responsibility and obligation to exercise and participate as a citizen by voting to retain those values that I hold dear.
There are many claims of how one vote elected, deposed or won a vital process. Not all of them are factual, and many have been disproved. I believe that my one vote is very important because I am fulfilling my responsibility as an American citizen, setting the example for others and showing my gratitude for being an American. It is up to us all. Please vote.
Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.