State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: 13th Amendment

Black Votes Matter: Pennsylvania’s Impressive History of Access to the Franchise

By: Ebony Thomas

Today, Pennsylvania’s voting laws are among the least restrictive of any state in granting its citizens access to the ballot. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that supports the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. Moreover, Pennsylvania has always been a leader in providing its citizens, especially its black citizens, access to its franchise.

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As early as the late 18th century, black freemen in Pennsylvania had the right to vote-well before the passage of the civil rights amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th). These gains were short-lived, as black freemen lost their suffrage rights in 1838 when the Pennsylvania constitution was amended. These freemen did not regain their right to the franchise until 1870 with the ratification of the United States Constitution’s 15th Amendment. During their disenfranchisement, blacks still fought for suffrage by petitioning and protesting for the Pennsylvania legislature to reinstate their rights. Yet their efforts fell on deaf ears. It was commonly held that apathy among black freemen and rising racial tensions between blacks and whites lost them their right to vote in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, once blacks regained their right to vote in 1870, Pennsylvania did not impose any barriers on the franchise, in contradistinction to other states, which imposed barriers like the poll tax and literacy tests that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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David Baugh Lecture: “Lynching, Literacy Tests, & ID Cards, The Suppression of Minority Voters”

By: Caiti Anderson

DBAs an editor of this blog, I keep a constant eye out for election law events to report. Fortunately (for both the blog and myself), I am exposed to brilliant thinkers and passionate advocates. On October 27th, I attended David Baugh’s excellent lecture, “Lynching, Literacy Tests & ID Cards: The Suppression of Minority Voters,” hosted by the Wolf Law Library. Mr. Baugh is a Richmond-based criminal trial lawyer dedicated to protecting and defending the Constitutional rights of all. Some of his career highlights include representing members of al-Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan in high profile civil rights cases. The American Bar Association, Virginia State Bar, and Old Dominion Bar Association have all recognized Mr. Baugh for his fearless advocacy.  He lives by the maxim he related during the lecture; “Protect the rights of people whom you don’t agree with, because when you do, you defend the rights of America.”

 

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