Even after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, many people in the United States continued to be denied the right to vote because of race, ethnicity, age, or other factors. Unfinished Business explores the ongoing struggle to provide access to the vote, one of the most powerful tools in a representative democracy. The Unfinished Business exhibition is available online and will be explored through this blog series.

Even if all citizens have the legal ability to vote, there are many other barriers preventing equal access to both voter registration and the practice of voting. The voter registration process still suffers from a lack of accessible locations, insufficient internet access, and restrictions on registration hours. Absentee, early, mail-in, and in-person voting opportunities remain unequal, while inadequate translation services and voter identification laws continue to present barriers. Polling locations in Virginia are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. Many people have to work during this time, including child or elder care. Election Day was made a state holiday by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020[1], but many businesses may remain open. Not all businesses allow leave time for voting. Some citizens may not be able to both vote and fulfill their work duties, especially if they hold multiple jobs. In large rural districts, voters may have difficulty travelling to or from remote polling locations. Even urban and suburban voters are limited by transportation to the polls.

Crusade For Voters, 206 East Clay Street, Richmond, Virginia. Every Member of Our Family is a Voter. Crusade For Voters Envelope

Ephemera, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

Access to information also plays a crucial role in voting. Voter registration status, the correct polling location, what types of identification can be used, each candidate’s platform, and what to expect at the polls are all important information for voters to have. Though the internet has made some of this information easier to find, verifying information can be difficult. Many schools and public libraries provide instruction on information and media literacy to assist the public in evaluating sources, in the hopes that these skills will become more widespread. The Virginia Department of Elections enables voters to access much of this information. Community-driven voter registration drives, such as those by the League of Women Voters, Crusade for Voters, and Rock the Vote, aim to both register and educate voters.

Based on the U.S. Census in 2010, the population of Virginia is represented by eleven congressional seats, one-hundred state delegates, and forty state senators. The federal government requires the district boundaries to divide the population into relatively equal segments and not discriminate based on race or ethnicity. Every ten years, the districts are redrawn based on census data by the Virginia General Assembly. Do you think they are always fair?

ger·ry·man·der /ˈjerēˌmandər/ verb

gerund or present participle: gerrymandering
1. manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.

When districts are engineered to favor a specific political party, or to minimize or exclude a population based on race or ethnicity, they are gerrymandered. Virginia’s districts have been found to be racially gerrymandered by the U.S. Supreme Court and must now be redrawn without bias. This interactive map shows the current districts in Virginia and different ways in which they might be redrawn. For additional information on redistricting in Virginia, see Ballotpedia, a non-partisan educational resource.

Future Unfinished Business blog posts will examine specific barriers to voting and those who have expanded the franchise. However, it’s interesting to think holistically about solutions that would increase civic engagement and lessen barriers for all voters or potential voters. In 2014, Virginia ranked 31st in the nation for voter turnout, with only 36.6% of the estimated citizens in the voting-age population (CVAP) casting ballots.[2] Even registered voters do not always make it to the polls. In 2016, 72.05% of registered voters in Virginia cast a ballot.[3] How could we make it easier for everyone to vote? What technology could assist voting? How might voting change in the next five, ten, or fifteen years? As we examine the history of voting in Virginia, let us also imagine a future when more engaged and informed Virginians exercise their right to vote.

``Will Your Vote Count,`` political flyer (detail), 1944.

Ephemera, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

Footnotes

[1] LIS: Virginia’s Legislative Information System. (2020). SB 601 Legal holidays; Election Day, removes Lee-Jackson Day as state holiday. Retrieved from: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+sum+SB601

[2] Virginia Performs: Measuring What Matters to Virginians. (2017). Civic Engagement. Retrieved from: https://vaperforms.virginia.gov/GovCitizens_voterRegistration.cfm

[3] Virginia Department of Elections. (2020). Registration/Turnout Reports. Retrieved from: https://www.elections.virginia.gov/resultsreports/registrationturnout-statistics/

Header Image Citation

Ephemera, n.d., Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

Sonya Coleman

Sonya Coleman

Digital Engagement & Social Media Coordinator

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