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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Voting Rights in America: 200-plus Years in a Nutshell

The Supreme Court's Ruling on "Citizens United"

Does anyone -- besides the Supreme Court -- really believe that the problem with contemporary American politics is that there's too little corporate money driving the nation's political agenda?

To the point where whole industries -- like Wall Street and the financial sector -- quite transparently now have a de facto veto over how (and whether) the government should regulate them?

No, I didn't think so.

Yet, with the Supreme Court's decision last month in the Citizens United case, the prospect of any of this getting better any time soon just got dimmer.

Herewith is my take on, how over some 200-plus years of democracy, the idea of universal franchise is still . . . very much imperfect.

A 200 Year Recap

Once upon a time in America, only property-owning, white men got to vote.

Gradually, all white men got to vote, as the states dropped their property ownership requirement in the early 19th century.

Then, in the wake of the Civil War and the passage of 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, African American men were enfranchised.

From there, it took another half-century before women finally got the right to vote nationally, when the 21st Amendment was passed in 1919.

Almost another half-century passed before African-Americans really got the right to vote -- especially in the South -- when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and outlawed poll taxes.

"The More Things Change"

So where are we today?

If you're 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and comply with local voter registration laws . . . you are legally entitled to vote. Regardless of your gender, race, or creed.

Unfortunately, however, in our current, media-driven political system, voters no longer control who gets elected to national office, and what they do once they're there -- campaign contributors do.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last week invalidating any limits on corporate campaign finance contributions, we've finally come full circle.

Namely, the only people who get a real say in our elections -- not to mention the laws enacted by the winners of those elections -- would once again appear to be rich, property-owning white men.

Except that today, they are the ones who head the nation's largest corporations.

The more things change . . .

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