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Why Voting in the U.S. Is Harder Than Just Checking a Box

Voters Cast Ballots In Wisconsin Primary
Photographer: Thomas Werner/Bloomberg
Updated on

Former President Barack Obama described the U.S. as “the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote rather than easier.” The nation’s founders restricted the vote to those who held property or paid taxes, which effectively meant White men. Even now, decades after constitutional amendments enfranchised Black people and women, most felons can’t vote, most people have to work on Election Day, some states require advance registration to vote, people without proper identification might not have their vote counted, intimidation at the polls is a worry and letting voters send their ballots by mail is contested, even during a pandemic.

From the 1890s to the 1960s, some states let people vote only if they first paid a poll tax, passed a literacy test or had a registered voter vouch for their good character. The common denominator was a desire to discourage Black Americans from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed these practices, but other obstacles to voting arose in their place, such as intimidation of voters at polling places, voter identification requirements and what critics call “purges” of voter-registration lists.