Millions of Americans go to the polls each November to vote for elected officials. Some vote easily, but others are denied their vote due to systemic suppression. All voters should be allowed to cast their ballots unless currently incarcerated. Suppressing voters violates the ideals of the United States and skews the government in a way that is not representative of the population.

Voter suppression, especially partisan suppression designed to support a certain party, has a long history. Black men were not able to vote until the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, and women could not vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. Even when these groups were allowed to vote, they were still discouraged from voting. During the Great Depression, with the country in economic collapse, women were encouraged to stay home and out of politics. In many places in the South, until the 1960s, white officials would administer a ‘literacy test’ for African-American voters. The verbal test would delve into bizarrely obscure trivia that had nothing to do with a person’s capability to vote. Many African-Americans were turned away because of failure of this test. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed this practice.

Voter suppression still occurs in the form of felony disenfranchisement. Felony disenfranchisement makes felons – people who have served at least one year in jail – unable to vote, even after they serve their prison sentence. In every state except Maine and Vermont, felons are not allowed to vote while in prison. This is logical, given that a person committing a crime has been given a sentence to serve in which they do not have a voice in society. However, many states do not allow felons to vote while on probation or parole, and three states – Iowa, Virginia, and Kentucky – permanently disenfranchise felons so that they cannot vote even after their sentence is ended. This specifically discriminates against African-American voters, fifteen percent of whom have faced felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement effectively takes away the votes of fifteen percent of black Americans.

All non-incarcerated citizens of the United States should be able to vote. When crimes are committed, a specific sentence is given as punishment, and when the sentence is up, felons should be able to rejoin society with all of their former rights. On November 6th, the citizens of Florida voted to repeal permanent felony disenfranchisement. As a result, more than 1.5 million ex-felons will regain the right to vote, dramatically changing the makeup of the state’s voting population.

Voter ID requirements also restrict voters. The U.S. is unique in the world for letting the states govern voting requirements, as opposed to having a federal list of criteria. Voters must be registered, and the deadline for registration is often a month before the election. A number of states also require the voter to show a photo ID, which not all voters have, and some require that IDs originate in-state, which is problematic for student voters attending out-of-state universities. This decreases the ability of the youth to vote. ID requirements can make the process difficult for students and low-income voters, and it is not getting easier. Since 2010, 23 states have passed laws making the voting process harder.  

In the United States, every free citizen should be able to vote. The US needs to end felony disenfranchisement, and move up the the deadline for registering to vote. Felony disenfranchisement could be ended with a constitutional amendment, but since such strong action is unlikely, states should stop passing laws that restrict citizens from casting their ballots. In a democracy, every voters’ opinion must be taken into account. If it is not, the representation in our country is skewed, and the result is not what the majority of people desire.

The United States is built on ideals that each person has a voice in their government. If that voice is taken away from specific people, we are rupturing those ideals in favor of a system that listens to only some and ignores others.