By Kate Chance
August 6th marks the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which granted millions of Americans the freedom to vote by overcoming the state and local legal barriers which prevented millions of African Americans from voting.
While Americans may no longer face literacy tests and poll taxes to prevent them from voting, many barriers still exist inhibiting thousands of Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Some of these barriers are simpler to correct, such as a lack of understanding around voter registration or awareness of state laws. Other restrictions, which often target those of minority groups, include strict voter ID requirements, reducing the number of polling places and limiting the options for early voting opportunities.
And this election cycle presents its own opportunity to influence history. Four million Americans turned 18 years old, the legal voting age, since the previous election. This midterm election brings with it a new opportunity for the youth of America to truly influence and shape our nation to fit the values of the younger generations.
In my home state of Florida, laws prevent previously convicted felons from voting, regardless of their charges. Despite having paid their dues to society through hard time, these individuals are being prevented from exercising their rights guaranteed by the constitution. The majority of states have policies in place which restore voting rights of felons upon their release from prison, parole or probation, but ten states, including Florida, do not guarantee this right.
However, on Florida’s ballot this year is an opportunity to change this—if passed, Amendment 4 would automatically restore the right to vote with those holding prior felony convictions following parole, not including those convicted of charges relating to murder or sexual offenses.
This year, many young adults hear about the candidates and amendments on their state’s ballot and will think, “Why should I vote in this election?” “What does any of this have to do with me?”
I call on you to vote not for yourself, but to vote for others. Vote for your neighbors and friends who face barriers preventing them from casting their own ballot. Vote for the martyrs who lost their lives in hopes of one day being able to vote themselves. Vote for the coming generations who are not yet old enough to participate but deserve the same bright future as the rest of us. Vote for a policy that will benefit Americans who are unable to vote. And vote for those who live in and love this great nation, but face legal barriers to having their voices heard.