The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution declared the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Unfortunately, this right was not acknowledged for almost a full century. Years after the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, African-Americans were subjected to racist tactics that included paying poll taxes, passing literacy tests and other erosions of the protections given by the Fifteenth Amendment. It was not until the Twenty-Fourth Amendment was passed that the poll tax came to an end, eventually leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which legally ended barriers to voting for African Americans and other protected classes. And let us never forget the countless number of lives that were sacrificed on the road to freedom.
In the last two years, however, we have witnessed a hostile attack on our democratic right to vote. The United States Supreme Court, in its 2013 decision, Shelby County vs. Holder, practically gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by striking down, as unconstitutional, the Act’s enforcement mechanism. Emboldened by the Court’s ruling, several states have recently attempted to enact laws that significantly restrict our access to the ballot box. This includes shortening the early voting period, increasing the scrutiny of identification, and eliminating Election Day registration.
Fortunately, Illinois is not one of those states that seek to disenfranchise its citizenry. In fact, today, October 20, 2014, marks the first day of early voting in Illinois. We are in the midst of a very important gubernatorial election, which will take place on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Illinois’ African-American community has a lot at stake. Issues important to our children, families, and communities, like funding for quality early childhood education, increased minimum wage, and access to affordable healthcare are all on the table during this year’s election. While the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention does not endorse candidates, we do endorse a movement that makes sure you exercise your franchise. There are no excuses, make sure you are registered to vote. You can vote early, mail-in your ballot or vote in person on November 4th.
As you prepare to cast your vote, remember the seemingly insurmountable obstacles we have overcome, honor the lives that were sacrificed, and never forget that we still have work to be done to build safe, healthy, and resilient African-American children, families, and communities.
EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE AND GO CATCH THAT WORM!!!!
Malik S. Nevels, J.D.
Exercise your right to vote!