Women’s Equality Day — August 26 — marked the 95th anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of this amendment is to prohibit restrictions being placed on the right to vote on the basis of gender. While many believe that the passage of this amendment gave all women an equal right to vote in 1920, this was not really the case.
Native Americans did not gain the right to U.S. citizenship until 1924. They had been denied citizenship until that time largely because of their struggle to preserve their own cultures. The federal Indian Citizenship Act did not give all Native Americans the right to vote because the law allowed states to ban Native Americans from voting. Utah was the final state to allow Native Americans to vote and this did not happen until 1956.
Japanese-Americans didn’t get citizenship until the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act allowed first generation Japanese Americans the right to become naturalized citizens.
In 1954, the Hernández v. State of Texas lawsuit established that U.S. citizens of Mexican descent were entitled 14th Amendment protections, citizenship, due process, and equal protection under the law, which included the right to vote.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was Congress’ support of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” It focused on the importance of the right to vote and the discriminatory tactics, like poll taxes and literacy tests, being used to deny people their Constitutional right to vote for federal offices.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 formally outlawed many practices being used to prevent people from voting, but it did not address all of the limitations many citizens faced. For example, the Act did not take into account that not all U.S. citizens are fluent in English or that they may not be able to read the ballots. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was amended in 1975 to protect the voting rights of citizens who do not speak and read English.
In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act attempted to respond to issues with uniformity and accessibility in voting, but this act is still being challenged in places throughout the country.
In 2012, the NAACP brought voter rights complaints to the United Nations. The aim was to bring awareness to the issues of dozens of states attempting to limit voter participation by enacting laws restricting when and where eligible voters are able to register, shortening early voting opportunities, restrictive changes to voter identification laws, and banning people with criminal pasts from voting. In particular, their complaint highlights the ways in which these laws disproportionately impact people of color.
The list above is not exhaustive, but it does make it clear that women’s equality, and equality in general, was certainly not achieved in 1920. It also demonstrates that over the past 95 years, some people were considered more equal than others when it came to being included in the American tradition of democracy. This list also makes it clear that there is still much work to be done in gaining equal voting rights for every American.
Even though we are in the year 2015, equality is still not something many have in the U.S. We can help rediscover the dream and the passion for equality by staying vigilant and understanding that there is still work to be done to create a better system and a better society. The power of the people and the strength of our voices, as expressed through our votes, must continue to push the cause of equality until it is finally and fully achieved. This is the America that every citizen deserves.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University and teaches courses in conflict resolution.