History of Voting in America

Voter Rights and Democracy. The Ramifications of Voter Suppression

Dani DeRosa, the Sierra Nevada Ally’s Civic Action Coordinator, interviews activists, business leaders, students and artists to talk about civic engagement, public service, the marketplace and the arts.

Conozca sus derechos de voto. (Know your voting rights.

People have fought for the right to vote. 

Suffragettes were denied for 42 years by Congress. Poll taxes and threats of violence would keep people of color and the poor from voting. Despite their contribution to US military intelligence during WWII, Native American soldiers returned to find voting barriers. 

Today, election workers are resigning due to threats of violence. This alarming fact runs counter to the belief that preserving voting rights equates to less violence.

An example of a new bill being proposed is the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021. This act seeks to challenge threats to Native votes. 

“But Grandma had faced the menacing growls of the massive dogs used to control protesting crowds. And she had been violently sprayed by the water hoses used to remind Blacks of their place.” Our Time is Now by Democratic voting rights activist, Stacey Abrams. 

Protecting the Right to Vote Has Been NonPartisan for a Better Part of the Last Half Century 

The Republicans for Voting Rights is an initiative of the Republican Accountability Project. Its purpose is to protect the “accessibility, integrity, and competitiveness of American elections.” 

As of October 12, 2022, the Nevada Secretary of State records show a total turnout of 469,209 (25.77%) voters in Nevada, a state with a history of low voter turnout.

Rosie Shavez, a canvasser activist focused on voter registration from Washington DC, assembled her team in Nevada. She said her experience clearly shows that millennials are very reluctant to participate. 

Interview with Carla Trounson from the Washoe County Library 

Carla Trounson is the curator of the Shia Szut Holocaust Memorial Collection and an associate member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust. While Trounson’s focus is on the national and international level, she believes many problems at the national level show up locally. For example: limiting voting rights and banning books.

“There are (some in) our country who want to alter our historical memory. I don’t think that’s a good thing. History is history. The good parts of it and the bad parts of it.

On February 11, 2023, Trounson will host a program presented by Professor Greta de Jong of the University of Nevada Reno at the Northwest Reno Library, 2325 Robb Drive Reno Nevada dedicated to understanding systemic racism and white supremacy in the US.  Many of the issues we encounter today in our country, from criminal justice, health, and the wealth gap reflect our continuing problem with race and class.

“We need to understand our history, and what happens when we exclude and otherize people.  The Northwest Reno Library will host an exhibition starting July 7 to August 18. 2023 from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Library Association titled Americans and the Holocaust.

Trounson mentions what happened in the United States during that time period, how racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia contributed to a quota system that didn’t allow Jews into the United States and allowed the establishment of Japanese internment camps in western states. “The reframe in Holocaust Studies: never again. Well. You can’t really talk about ‘never again’ if you’re not talking about what happened. We don’t want that to happen again. We can lose our democracy, we can slide into an authoritarian state if we’re not careful. So vigilance is very important.”

Many attempts have been made to censor library resources and books in schools.  

“I work in a library and so the idea that you want to ban knowledge, that you want to ban learning, that you want to squash curiosity, and intellectual pursuit, and questioning and critique, is just an anathema to libraries, to learning, to education, and to a free, democratic society. All of this ties in that our voices matter and our votes matter. What kind of American do we want to see? What kind of America do we want to leave our kids and our grandkids?” 

The ACLU defines censorship as “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ (and) happens whenever… people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.” 

The Northwest Reno Library will host Professor Greta de Jong on Saturday, October 18th, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. She’ll be speaking about the history of voting in America. 

“No one in the United States can take their voting rights for granted.” 

Professor de Jong’s “research and teaching focus on the connections between race and class and the ways that African Americans have fought for economic as well as political rights from the end of Reconstruction through the twenty-first century. She’s the author of three books… Her current research examines tensions among family, community and justice that were evident during struggles to desegregate public schools in the mid-twentieth century United States.Bio from the University of Nevada, Reno. 

“There have been times in the nation’s history when voting rights have been expanded and protected, and times when those rights have been restricted and rolled back, and the restrictions have always affected white Americans along with people of color. For example,” Professor de Jong says. “Thousands of working-class white people were disfranchised along with African Americans in the late nineteenth century, in both the North and the South, when states adopted new rules that made voting more difficult. We are seeing similar measures being proposed today, and people who care about democracy need to do everything possible to preserve access to the ballot for all.”

Like the Tide Coming In and Out

According to Trounson, “I think the framers were concerned about times like this. So if we’re not vigilant, I think it can just slip through our hands. Like the tide coming in and out. It doesn’t have to be this one gigantic revolution like the Russian Revolution. It can be like the tide. So all of our voices matter. All of our votes count. And we should all participate in our democracy.”

All Voting is Local

Jennifer Willett holds a Ph.D. in social work. She manages All Voting is Local, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to voter rights. She is involved with the Democracy Academy through Black Wall Street Reno which was to run through September. 

“Hopefully… we can step away from the politics and agree that if we want to live in a democracy then everyone should be able to vote,” Professor Willett says. She hopes to challenge barriers for people who have been historically silent as well as combat voting-related conspiracy theories. “That history of trying to suppress votes disenfranchises people over and over again.”

One of Willett’s concerns is voting accessibility, particularly for people with disabilities. 

“We have very accessible voting but there are policies being proposed across the states that would limit access. Accessibility will change our voting structure.” She says paper ballots are prone to error and are not ADA accessible. “If we can remain on top of these things to keep voting accessible and open we will protect our democracy.”

Present Day Voter Suppression

In Our Time is Now Abrams writes: “Voter suppression works its might by first tripping and causing to stumble the unwanted voter. Then by convincing those who see the obstacle course to forfeit the race without even starting to run… Modern-day suppression has swapped rabid dogs and cops with billy clubs for restrictive voter ID and entangled rules for participation. And those that are the most vulnerable to suppression become the most susceptible to passing on that reluctance to others.“

One possible barrier to casting your vote could be Reno’s public transportation. RTC has cut services since 2021.

As for those who live on or near a reservation, sSome live too far from voting registration centers. If you were born on a reservation it may be difficult to obtain an ID. 

The following Nelson Mandela quote can be found on the United Nations website (where it is decreed all prisons must have a standardized prisoner file management system. Prison and jail personnel are responsible for the handling of inmate IDs, which are required to vote.)  “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

A candidate could run for president from jail but hundreds of thousands of citizens have barriers to casting their vote from jail? 

“…others have tried to find ways to bring mobile voting locations to jailed voters. Illinois, for example, recently enacted a law placing a permanent polling location inside Cook County Jail in Chicago…” as stated in Challenging Jail-Based Disenfranchisement: A Resource Guide for Advocates

Ballot questions include issues on human rights, increasing minimum wage, and possible ranked-choice voting.

Here is a comprehensive list of the candidates

Important Dates from the Official Sample Ballot 2022:

  • October 11 Mail and DMV Deadline 
  • October 11-November 8 Extended Online Registration
  • October 22-November 4 Early Voting
  • October 24-November 4, 8 Same Day Registration
  • November 8 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Election Day 

Click here to check your voter registration. 

Verifique su registro de votante.

Want to know what’s on your ballot? Use Ballotpedia’s Sample Ballot tool.

Dani DeRosa is the Sierra Nevada Ally’s Civic Action Coordinator. She is a multimedia journalist from Sparks, Nevada driven to serve stigmatized and underserved populations and has done so in both healthcare and as a grassroots events coordinator. She’s led entrepreneurial workshops with both The Holland Project and Reno Bike Project.

Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication with no paywall, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, offering unique, differentiated reporting, factual news, and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.


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