From America’s founding days, when voting was restricted to white male homeowners, to the transformative Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the sweeping reform of the voting process introduced in the early 2000s, the right to vote in the US elections has seen massive changes.
The original constitution left states with the right to vote for a variety of reasons, including a compromise on slavery and the fact that the concept of building a representative democracy was new, says David Schultz, professor of political science at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota Law School.
“In 1787, the United States was in a unique position,” he says. “When you have traveled the rest of the world, you have seen monarchies and principalities. You did not have this concept of the right to vote. You didn’t vote for kings in or out of office. “
In the 1820s, property qualifications to vote began to be eliminated and amendments, including the 15th and 19th, granted the right to vote to black men and women, respectively, although they did not guarantee this right. to all Americans. During the Jim Crow era, which lasted nearly a century, for example, bullying, violence, literacy tests, election taxes, grandfather clauses and other tools were used to prevent the voting of minority populations in the South.
But the voting rights law, says Schultz, pushed back those restrictions.
“The VRA did what Reconstruction did: put federal power behind the right to vote,” says Schultz. “… At the end of the day, if you as a state were not going to protect the voting rights, you knew the Department of Justice was going to take action and the Supreme Court was there to support them.”
After 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court ruling declared section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, states that previously had to allow electoral changes through the federal government were free to make changes on their own . This has led to new waves of state laws enacting voter identification requirements, closed polling stations, restrictions on mail voting, and limited voting hours.
“We have two trends in American history regarding voting rights,” says Schultz. “One has been the gradual expansion into universal franchise over time, but at the same time there has been a push back to disenfranchise.
Below is a timeline of milestones in the history of US voting rights.
Constitution leaves states responsible for voting
August 2, 1776: the declaration of independence regulates the rights of voters
In the Declaration of Independence, signed that day, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
June 21, 1788: the vote left to the States
The US Constitution is adopted on that date, but instead of a federal requirement, it grants states the power to set standards for the right to vote. As a result, most white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, landowners over the age of 21, are the only group allowed to vote. Article II establishes the electoral college.
July 9, 1868: Citizenship granted to all Americans born and naturalized
Following the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery, the 14th Amendment was ratified, granting citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States” and “equal protection under the laws”, including elders slaves.
Black men and women have the right to vote
February 3, 1870: black men obtain the right to vote
The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving black men the right to vote and Congress the power to assert that right. However, laws, including election taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, were passed in most southern states, removing black voting rights until 1965.
August 18, 1920: women have the right to vote
After decades of protests and struggles for change, the 19th Amendment is passed, granting American women the right to vote: “The right to vote of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by no state because of it. sex. Congress will have the power to enforce this section through appropriate legislation. However, its passage does not prevent most southern states from preventing minority women from voting by passing discriminatory laws.
Native Americans and Asian Americans acquire rights
June 2, 1924: Amerindians grant the right to vote
Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act, granting the right to vote to Native Americans born in the United States. Despite its passage, some states continue to prohibit Native Americans from voting.
Chinese exclusion law of 1943 ends
In the aftermath of World War II, when the United States and China were allies, the Chinese exclusion law, which had prohibited Chinese people from becoming citizens since 1882, was finally repealed. Chinese immigrants and their American-born families become the first Asian Americans eligible to naturalize and obtain citizenship – and to vote.
March 29, 1961: Residents of Washington, DC can vote in presidential elections
The 23rd Amendment is ratified, allowing U.S. citizens living in the District of Columbia to vote for president and vice president. Prior to its passage, DC residents could only vote for offices with a valid registration in one of the nation’s states.
January 23, 1964: voting taxes prohibited
The 24th Amendment is ratified, banning the use of election taxes in federal elections. “There can be no one too poor to vote,” President Lyndon Johnson said at a ceremony announcing the amendment.
Voting Rights Act 1965
WATCH: Voting Rights Act 1965
August 6, 1965: Voting Rights Act
President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, banning literacy tests and applying the 15th Amendment federally. It also provides for federal examiners who can register voters in certain jurisdictions. Faced with a wave of legal challenges, the Supreme Court of the United States confirmed its constitutionality in a number of decisions from 1965 to 1969. In 1970, section 5 was extended for five years.
July 1, 1971: 18 and over can vote
The 26th Amendment is signed by President Richard Nixon, granting the right to vote to U.S. citizens aged 18 or older. Banning age discrimination, it lowers the age of 21, largely in response to the number of 18-20 year olds fighting in Vietnam.
August 6, 1975: Rights of non-English speaking voters
In addition to establishing a permanent ban on literacy tests and other discriminatory voting requirements, amendments to the Right to Vote Act are signed by President Gerald Ford, requiring districts with significant numbers of Non-English speaking voters receive instructions or assistance in registering and voting.
June 29, 1982: Extension of the law on voting rights
President Ronald Reagan signs a 25-year extension of the franchise law. The revisions also overturn recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, making it easier for people with disabilities and older people to vote.
Accessibility becomes a requirement
September 28, 1984: the vote is made accessible
The Elderly and Disabled Elderly and Disabled Voting Accessibility Act 1984 was signed by Reagan, requiring polling stations in federal elections to be accessible to people with disabilities and the elderly. It also specifies that if no accessible place is available, another way of voting on polling day must be proposed.
May 20, 1993: Voter registration via the DMVs
Also known as the “Motor Voters” Act, the National Voter Registration Act 1993 is signed by President Bill Clinton. It requires state motor vehicle agencies to provide voter registration opportunities, states to provide voter registration applications by mail, states to maintain up-to-date and accurate voter registration lists, and opportunities to register to vote at selected state and local offices. In its first year, over 30 million voters update or complete their registration.
October 29, 2002: Help America Vote Act
By enacting sweeping reform of the voting process, President George W. Bush signs the Help America Vote Act, requiring the United States Electoral Assistance Commission to improve and certify voting materials, keep the national voting form up to date voter registration and operates a clearinghouse for information on national elections with common practices, among others. It provides funds to states to comply with new standards and provisions.
Supreme Court Voting Rights Act
June 25, 2013: The Voting Rights Act is backtracked
In Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 vote, declares section 4 (b) of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, holding that the constraints imposed on certain states and on the federal review of voting procedures states, known as preclearance, are outdated. Seen as a blow to civil rights activists, since the ruling, which affected nine states and several counties and townships, a federal commission found that at least 23 states had enacted “newly restrictive election laws across the board. of State”. These include the closing of polling stations, voter identification laws, limiting early voting and more.
Voting Rights: A Brief History, Carnegie Corporation
The Fight for the Right to Vote, Pence Law Library Guides
The 19th Amendment, National Archives of the United States
History of Federal Voting Rights Laws, United States Department of Justice
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, US Constitution Center
The Americans With Disabilities Act and other federal laws protecting the rights of voters with disabilities, United States Department of Justice
New voting restrictions in America, Brennan Center for Justice