Voting Rights and Representation, Then and Now

Voting Rights and Representation, Then and Now

We have less than a month to go until election day. Present in this campaign season are issues that have plagued our nation for centuries: racism, populism, immigration, inclusion and representation among others.

Embedded in every advertisement, news article, and speech are the questions - Who are we as a nation? How does our past intersect with our promise? What is the meaning of democracy?

As children, we’re taught a fairly simplistic version of democracy - a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting. This simple framework can, at an early age, help bestow the power of the vote. American children are told: your vote counts.

But our nation's history is more complicated. The right to vote has never been universal, and unfortunately, remains that way today. Many people have been, and continue to be, systematically and intentionally denied the ability to participate in our most essential form of government. They have been disqualified and deemed unworthy, incapable and unsuitable as citizens, voters, and even people. All based on the color of their skin, their gender, their ancestry, or their religion. Many people have had to fight to be counted, fight to be included. Many people have died in order to win the right to participate fully and equally in our democracy. This whole truth does not diminish the power, simplicity or importance of the vote. Instead, it underscores that the vote is, in the words of one of nation’s longest-serving public servants, Rep. John Lewis, sacred.

As we approach election day, we encourage you to talk with your children about what they know about our nation’s history with voting.

Consider with your Children:

This month, we invite you to open up a conversation with your children about the history of voting rights in our country and the importance of voting. From your personal family history, discuss how have voting rights impacted the previous generations of your family. On the broader, national, scale, talk about what it means for our nation that not everyone was given the right to vote; and how for some people today, that right still hangs in the balance or is intentionally denied. There are many resources below to get the conversation started and the books highlighted were selected with these conversations in mind (Books are at the bottom)

Consider for Yourself:

We also invite you to reflect on your own knowledge as well. The resources we’ve linked below can help with some question that may crop up.

  • What do you know about the history of the vote, and what efforts were undertaken in order to get that right granted to those people groups?

  • What do you know about the different rationales used to without the vote from groups?

  • How were you taught to engage with voting as a young person? How can you include your children in your voting experience this year?

  • From election candidates, to those already in office, what people groups are PRESENT and MISSING?


The Fight to Vote: A History of Voting Rights in America
Great overview about major milestones. Who was included and who wasn’t.

Voting Rights Act – Interactive timeline
Begins with Civil Rights Act of 1866 and continues through 2016

Narrative voting rights timeline
Be aware of who isn’t being mentioned and counted as you read this. Language matters and instead of using phrases like “eligible voters” the article says people.

Current State of Voting Rights Act - a 3 Part Comic Series
Graphic story telling of Voting Rights in three stages: Voting Rights Act, The Supreme Court Battle, State Level Legislation

How voter ID laws disenfranchise
Stories that detail the challenges some Americans face when trying to obtain a state ID

Felony Disenfranchisement
A John Oliver treatment on the subject. 2018 update: Texas mother goes to jail for voting in 2016 election while on probation. ONE & TWO

Stronger in Solidarity
A collection of resources that help illuminate the historical and present divides between white women in the suffrage movement and white feminists and women of color.

2018 Voting Laws State-by-State
Critical roundup on recent and pending state legislation.


voting books image.jpg

If I Ran for President: by Catherine Stier

Grace for President: by Kelly DiPucchio

Granddaddy's Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box: by Michael Bandy

Lillian's Right to Vote: by Jonah Winter

Vote!: by Eileen Cristelow

Because They Marched: by Russell Freedman