Bringing back the flavor of Jim Crow restrictions to voting

By: Christina Doncell

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.

Some politicians think the voting age should be raised from 18 to 25. The proposal includes “increasing the automatic voting age to 25, unless a citizen 18 or older is enrolled in the military, works as a first responder or passes the same civics test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship.” This would put a lot of Americans at risk for having their right to vote delayed. The proposal reeks of literacy polling tests to prevent Black and poor Americans from voting back in the 1930s, after the 15th Amendment was passed. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that removed these devices for limiting minority and poor voters at the polls. Do we, the American public, want to go back to gatekeeping the right to vote?

The proposal to raise the age to vote ignores the disparities between poverty and access to education that still exist in America today. “Demographically, White Americans are most likely to be illiterate, at 35%, while Hispanic Americans are second most likely at 34%. Illiteracy means lacking the ability to read and write.” This is also compounded with a 2022 study that, “3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read.” Low-income students, unless given the opportunity in their later education, will most likely face challenges with literacy as they approach adulthood. “Almost 70% of low-income fourth-grade students cannot read at a basic level.” This means a large portion of Americans would be limited to enrolling in the military or working as a first responder to achieve the right to vote at 18, per the proposal.

What about those who  are unfit to enroll in the military? “Just over 1 in 3 young adults aged 17-24 is too heavy to serve in our military.” This can be attributed to a lack of physical activity, obesity, and malnutrition.  A 2020 study from the Pentagon showed 77% of Americans aged 17 – 24 were unfit to serve. More specifically, “overweight (11%), drug and alcohol abuse (8%), and medical/physical health (7%).” Under the proposal, these unfit individuals between the ages of 17 – 24 would be forced to work as a first responder or pass the same civics test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship to achieve the right to vote at 18.

The civics test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship is “meant to ensure that the new citizens know the history of our nation and that they will be able to find work at a comparable education level to that of the standard American citizen.”  To use this civics test in the proposed way is a perversion of the purpose of the exam – now it would be used as one of the gatekeeping measures of when someone can vote. In addition, to file a naturalization form (N-400), one only has to be 18 years of age, not 25.

The proposal also ignores the fact that in certain communities one does not get to choose their profession, individuals are simply trying to find any job that will pay the bills and put food on the table. As of September 2022, 63% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. The United States Department of Agriculture in 2021 reported that 34 million people in America are food insecure. Most of the time a first responders’ salary is not sustainable for the populations facing food insecurity. Looking at pay reporting for Arkansas of first responder salary based on 2021 data: EMT annual wage: $30,580; Paramedic annual wage: $38,620; Police annual wage: $42,430; Firefighter annual wage: $36,950. In 2021, the average annual spending on food by Americans was $5,259 annually. How are these livable wages for a single-income household? How would these wages be livable income for households that are single-income and have children? Now compare the average salaries with a jump in inflation and the cost of groceries in 2022 rising by 11.4% and then rising again by 5.8% in 2023. Compare this with a raise rate of 3.5% and we can see how many households would not be able to pursue a first responder role to, per the proposal, vote at 18.

Not to mention the proposed legislation would potentially negatively impact our entering classes for university. Many students rely on scholarship(s) to gain a college degree. Public data from 2016 shows the percentage of racial groups receiving federal aid (need-based scholarships) for college was 57% white, 12% black, 16% Hispanic, 8% Asian, 0.3% American Indian/Alaskan Native, and 0.3% Pacific Islander. 2023 statistics show “private sources award over $7.4 billion in scholarship money annually.”

What this proposal seems to have is a disfavor with differing opinions at the polls. Politicians need to face the music instead of attempting to change the way a fundamental right comes to age! The politicians running for office are out of touch with what Americans need and don’t want to face the accountability Gen Z and younger generations are demanding. For example, Politico expects this proposal to “disproportionately affect Democrats’ electoral prospects, since Generation Z voters decidedly skew left. Exit polls this fall showed 63 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voting Democratic.”

Mitt Romney, a 76-year-old Republican Senator from Utah even acknowledges it’s time to go. “At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-80s. Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders,” video statements given by Senator Romney, “[t]hey’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.” It’s time to either get with the American public or step aside so someone else can run for office and in the meantime protect the existing rights of the public.


About the Author: Christina Doncell is a second-year law student in the part-time division at the William H. Bowen School of Law. She is a member of the Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service, the Vice President of the Latin American Law Student Association, and she also serves as the Mock Trial Committee Chair for Phi Alpha Delta – Robinson Chapter.

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