Go Vote, Soldier! How World War II Changed Voting
World War II changed our country in many ways, including the way we vote. During the war, congressman grappled and debated with how to allow the more than sixteen million Americans serving in the country’s defense to vote. According to The National World War II Museum, the arguments were many – state sovereignty versus a uniform ballot, poll taxes meant to disenfranchise African American voters, slow overseas mail service, and soldiers’ propensity to vote for the active commander-in-chief. All of these issues were worked through, however, and two voting acts were passed during the war in both 1942 and 1944.
The Soldier Voting Act of 1942 was passed less than two months before the year’s election. It gave every person living away from their residence to serve in the nation’s defense the right to vote in the federal election. In addition, no one under the act had to pay a poll tax. Despite the act, only 28,000 out of about four million men and women in service at the time voted in that year’s election.
With the apparent failure of the 1942 act, congress revised the act in 1944 to ensure greater voting success. A universal ballot was developed but opposed by many as service men and women had to write in their preferred candidates, and opponents feared they would just write in President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president they had known for eleven years. Twenty states decided to adopt the Official Federal War Ballot as their state absentee ballot. Sadly, to appease all sides, the 1944 act allowed states to still collect a poll tax to vote. The 1944 act was more successful. This time, about 3.4 million service men and women (25%) voted, and Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term.
Voting in the United States has not always been an easy task for some, but the acts passed during World War II, though not perfect, helped. Be thankful for your right to vote and go vote this week!
“It’s a lucky thing for President Roosevelt that he doesn’t have you on his war committee.” Sheffield hid a grin from his wife.
Songbird, Chapter 1