Explainer: History of Voting & Generational Differences

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Voting in the U.S. is a process that has been around for centuries. Through the years there have been many advancements and changes to the voting process and voting laws. This blog talks about the history of voting in the U.S., as well as the voting experiences of two generations (mother and son), and the things they experienced when they were voting at a young age.

Voting began in 1776; however, people at the time didn’t have the same voting rights as we do now. At the time, only white men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote (sos.wa.gov). The Constitution’s 14th Amendment gave voting rights to men born in the U.S.  Most racial barriers (except for Native Americans) were broken in 1870. Yet, even though many people of different races were allowed to vote, people of color continued to be discriminated against and had their votes suppressed, for decades more.

Only men were eligible to vote in the U.S. until women were given the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th Amendment. This change came after women of all races fought for their rights in the Women’s Suffrage movement. A few years later, Native Americans were also given the same right (sos.wa.gov). Great change was made when the Civil Rights Act was passed. This occurred in 1964. It made sure that every person over 21, of different races, genders, and educational backgrounds were able to vote (sos.wa.gov).  Still election discrimination continued especially, in southern states. After marches to demand an end to voter discrimination and the nation’s outcry following the Bloody Sunday march on Selma, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. According to history.com, this act, which was enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was finally made into a law in August of 1965. The law created change in some of the following: literary tests being banned, and the investigation of poll taxes.

Some other voting milestones made throughout history include the voting age being lowered to 18 years of age due to the creation of the 26th Amendment in 1971, and the creation of the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act in 1984.

People from different generations most likely have different experiences compared to people today; this is especially true when it comes to the voting process. Mabel and Greg are a mother and a son with different experiences based on their generational difference. Mabel became a first-time voter in the 1950’s. Greg was a first time voter in the 1980’s.

When asked about their feelings about voting, they both stated that people have the right and the duty to vote. They both vote as often as they can, Mabel even said she doesn’t remember ever missing an election. And “it makes me angry when the voter turnout is low,” she said because she feels strongly that it is our civic duty to vote.

For Greg, he describes the voting process as “fairly easy.” “There are people there to help you along the way,” he said.   He likes that if you are confused when you arrive at the polling place, you can ask a worker about where you should go or what to do. Greg’s district has electronic voting machines. He feels the screens inside the voting booths are easy to use. You simply press to highlight the name or names of the candidate(s) you are voting for.  Greg also recommends researching the candidates and their platforms before showing up at the polls to vote. It makes the process easier, he says, especially for young voters. Back when Greg was younger he never had websites and the resources that young people have today when it comes to voting.

“Politics is frustrating to research and think about today because people seem to be so judgmental,” Greg says. “It takes work, but there is so much more information out there.” Another point he made was that for local elections, there can sometimes be candidates outside of polling places that you can meet and that can possibly help you make your decision on who you’re voting for.

Mabel also talked about how technology and social media have changed the world of voting and politics today. She talked about the current political climate and how there is so much happening. “People are outspoken and likely to share their opinions today,” Mabel said. She went on to say that the older people she is around more often than the younger generations are less likely to share political opinions with one another. With the technology today, it can make voting easier, because you can research information on the process and the candidates that you are able to vote for. And also, you are able to register online in many states.

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Youth Voters Unite is a transmedia storytelling project produced by senior Communication majors at Cabrini University. Students in Senior Convergence: Media for Social Justice are reporting this academic year on the voting process and voting justice topics. Their goal is to educate youth voters on the importance of engaging in the political process and claiming their right to shape their own future. 


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