Voting should be made easy for everyone

Jan Koch

While being a parent may arguably be the most important role many of us take on, being a good citizen is a close second.

Our democracy works best when all who can vote do vote and every vote is tamper-proof and secure. As the history of the United States shows, this was not always the case. The struggle to secure the vote has been a long and hard fight for many.

The United States Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to determine who was eligible. In the 18th century, voting was restricted to white males with certain net worth in shillings or personal property and/or owned a certain amount of land. Beginning around 1790, individual states began to reassess property ownership as a qualification for voting in favor of gender and race.

Voting rights were not guaranteed until after the Civil War when four constitutional amendments were ratified to extend voting rights to different groups of citizens.

In 1870, non-white men and freed slaves were given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment. However, Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests, poll taxes and religious tests were implemented in some of the states and local communities.

It took until 1964 before a poll tax payment was prohibited from being used as a condition for voting in federal elections. Before the passage of the 24th Amendment, the requirement to pay a fee in order to vote had kept low-income citizens, both white and black, from taking part in elections.

Women weren’t allowed to vote until 100 years ago when the 19th Amendment was ratified. In early America, women weren’t allowed the same rights as men. Married women could neither own property nor legally claim any money they might earn.

The women’s rights movement didn’t organize itself as a national fight until 1848. In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association lobbied for voting rights in a state-by-state basis. Women took to the streets and some were arrested for their civil disobedience. Then-President Woodrow Wilson took note, and in 1918, he came out in support of the movement. The Senate passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. A progressive Wisconsin legislature was the first to ratify the amendment. After the required three-fourths of the states ratified the it, the constitutional amendment was officially adopted on Aug. 26, 1920.

While the 15th and 19th amendments allowed citizens the right to vote without regard for their race, color or gender, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until the passage of the Snyder Act of 1924, also called the Indian Citizenship Act.

During the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement activists were repeatedly subjected to mistreatment and violence. As a result, then-President Lyndon Johnson called for voting rights legislation with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A third voting rights movement was enacted to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Activists noted that most of the young men who were being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War were too young to have any voice in the selection of the leaders who were sending them to fight. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971.

Securing the right to vote for everyone has been a hard fight, but in the present day, the “right to vote” is being denied for other reasons.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law was enacted in 2011 after Republicans took control of the legislature and the statehouse. This law requires citizens to show an approved photo ID to cast a ballot.

In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing the GOP to pass more ultra-restrictive voting laws.

In 2016, a Wisconsin judge further suppressed the vote by allowing limits on times and dates of early voting, a 28-day residency requirement and restrictions on the use of student IDs for voting, all of which were Republican-adopted laws that aimed at making voting harder and less convenient.

The United States is almost alone among industrial countries and other democracies in putting most of the burden of registering to vote on individual voters. In Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal, he directed the Department of Transportation to enter into an agreement with the State Elections Commission to provide information and facilitate automatic voter registration. However, the GOP members on the Joint Finance Committee eliminated this provision.

Let’s get voting right. No one should have to take time off work or stand in a long line. How about having voting on weekends or making election day a federal holiday? Vote-by-mail systems have already been implemented in four states with reviewers saying its fair, safe and easy.

Election Day is the one day when every citizen has as much power as anyone else. That moment when you’re in the voting booth, the power of your vote can make a difference.

If you aren’t registered to vote, go to or register at the polls on Election Day. You can vote early with your municipal clerk beginning two weeks before an election or have an absentee ballot sent to you.

As Fighting Bob La Follette said, 100 years ago, “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

Let’s take the cure. Vote.

Jan Koch is a Shawano resident and the chairwoman for the Shawano County Democratic Party.