Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Right To Vote

The decision for Guinn v. United States was handed down June 21st 1915, settling the question of literacy tests for voting in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma became a state in 1907. In compliance with the United States Fifteenth Amendment, Oklahoma’s constitution allowed all men to vote with no regard to race. The Oklahoma legislator did place an amendment in its state constitution which required voters to pass a literacy test. There were exemptions from the literacy requirement. If the potential voter could show that his Grandfather had voted, been a soldier or been a citizen of a foreign nation before 1866, the voter wouldn’t have to pass the literacy test. This clause allowed illiterate whites to vote, but not illiterate blacks.

Oklahoma’s amendment started just before the election of November 1910. As election officers refused blacks the right to vote, the officers were convicted of violating the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The case was argued before the Supreme Court October 17th 1913, and was the first case in which the NAACP filed a brief. The Court handed down its decision June 21st 1915, in which it ruled "the grandfather clauses in the Maryland and Oklahoma constitutions to be repugnant to the Fifteenth Amendment and therefore null and void.” The decision had little impact on voters in Oklahoma, which passed a new law stating that, "all persons, except those who voted in 1914, who were qualified to vote in 1916 but who failed to register between April 30 and May 11, 1916, with some exceptions for sick and absent persons who were given an additional brief period to register, would be perpetually disenfranchised."

If your interested in reading the Courts findings they can be found at GUINN v. U.S., 238 U.S. 347 (1915) 238 U.S. 347 FRANK GUINN and J. J. Beal v. UNITED STATES. No. 96.

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