MISSOURI (KSNF/KODE) — As time goes on and new generations forge ahead to take up the mantle our ancestors have lived and died for, it’s important to remember how far humanity has come lest we forget the privilege we have in a voting system that values the voice of the people within it.
The right to vote has been a topic that has called for wars and resulted in them. The subject of who should have the right to vote has led to mass protests and demonstrations in U.S. history as well as incredulous acts of violence. Leaders and advocates in the past had spent years risking their lives and working to educate and persuade positions of power to vote on the side of equality.
The State of Missouri is unique in its own voting history as it was once a state divided against itself before and during the Civil War, but its voting history started long before then and has continued long after. Here’s a look at the history of voters’ rights in Missouri:
1789 – The U.S. Constitution grants states the right to establish voting requirements. Most states limited this right to property-owning or tax-paying white males, with very few exceptions noted here.
1803 – Before Missouri became a territory or was granted statehood, it was included in a large area of land in the Louisana Purchase, a real-estate deal between France and the United States that cost $15 million.
1812 – Missouri Territory was organized as a separate entity from the Louisiana Territory. It also established its own system of courts to resolve disputes according to this source here.
1820 – Missouri Territory adopted its first constitution, establishing itself as “…a free and independent republic, by the name of ‘The State of Missouri.'” However, Missouri wanted to be admitted into statehood as a slave state because enslaved people were already established within the region’s economy. Congress did not want to disrupt the equal representation of slave states and free states in government and allowing Missouri statehood at that time would do so. This led to the Missouri Compromise of 1821.
The Missouri Constitution also established criminal disenfranchisement – being defined as barring “all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime” from voting.
1821 – Missouri statehood was achieved under the Missouri Compromise, approved by Congress. It was a law that simultaneously admitted Maine and Missouri into the Union under the conditions that Maine would remain a free state and Missouri would be a slave state, maintaining the balance in Congress. This temporarily settled a divisive debate over whether new states would permit or prohibit slavery but eventually led to much discourse about the Union’s ability to govern states throughout the years. You can read more about that here.
From the beginning of Missouri’s statehood in 1821 to the year of the 15th Amendment in 1870, it is assumed the majority of white males and only white males retained the right to vote as no supporting documents or reliable sources state otherwise or confirm the exact voting guidelines set by Missouri throughout that time.
1865 – The Missouri Constitution of 1865, also known as the “Drake” Constitution, was adopted. It banned the practice of enslaving people without exemption and restricted the voting rights of former rebels and Confederate sympathizers. It restricted the right to vote to only those who had been loyal to Missouri and the Union.
1870 – Males of all races within the U.S. were given the right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This followed the 13th Amendment, which declared all enslaved people free in the states that had seceded from the Union, and the 14th Amendment which granted other civil rights such as citizenship to Black males and the due process of law. However, the 15th Amendment was not enough in some states because people of color were still denied the right to vote by individual state constitutions, poll taxes, literacy tests, the “Grandfather Clause,” and intimidation.
1920 – The 19th Amendment was ratified and granted U.S citizen women the right to vote.
1924 – The Indian Citizenship Act granted citizenship and in turn, voting rights to Native Americans.
The Missouri Voting Right Amendment, also known as Issue 9, outlawed “insane persons from voting” according to this source here.
1971 – The official minimum age of voter eligibility for U.S. citizens is lowered from 21 to 18 years of age in the ratification of the 26th Amendment.
2016 – Missouri approved an amendment that required a form of photo identification at voting polls after registration is complete.
2020 – The Missouri Supreme Court blocked part of the 2016 voter identification law that required voters to sign affidavits before voting if they did not have the required photo ID. This resulted in Missouri voters being allowed to present either photo or non-photo ID at the polls.
It is important to note that criminal disenfranchisement is still practiced in Missouri today, and has been a form of criminal punishment since 1100 BC according to this source. Missouri citizens that are incarcerated or on probation or parole are currently not entitled to vote according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. Most voting rights for those with felonies are reinstated after the probation or parole period has ended.
The State of Missouri has come an incredibly long way to establish and protect the rights of voters. In part, it is through decades of civil rights advocacy and voting that have sparked immense change in the way our society functions today. It is through our right to vote that we will change and shape society for more decades to come.