Voting Rights in the US

Nicole Desiato

The late John Lewis said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy." Voting is an important American right, from our beginnings as a revolutionary colony protesting taxation without representation. But the journey for universal voting has been a long one. We’ll examine some of the milestone voting moments in American history, and provide some great resources to use with your students to discuss the importance of voting!

February 3, 1870 - 15th Amendment Ratification

After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment was passed which said people could not be denied the right to vote based on their race. It was ratified in 1870, but many Southern states did not allow African-Americans the right to vote by administering difficult tests and poll taxes.

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August 26, 1920 - 19th Amendment Ratification

The women’s suffrage movement began in the late 1800s, but women were not Constitutionally given the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Before this, some states allowed women the right to vote but many did not -- the 19th Amendment made it a nationwide rule.

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Post World War II & Civil Rights Voting Amendments

In the 60s and 70s, many new amendments and voting laws were passed, including:

  • March 29, 1961 -- the 23rd Amendment is ratified giving D.C. residents the right to vote.
  • January 23, 1964 -- the 24th Amendment is ratified, and prohibits a poll tax. Poll taxes became common in Southern states as a way to prevent African-Americans from voting.
    • Analyze an example of a poll tax with this primary source image.
    • See which states did not ratify the 24th Amendment on this map.
  • Summer, 1964 -- Freedom Summer begins in Mississippi. This is a grassroots movement to register African-Americans to vote.
    • Discover a voter registration test that many places required African-Americans to pass before allowing them to vote.
  • August 6, 1965 -- The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed into law to enforce the 15th Amendment. It was later amended to include protections for bilingual voters and voters’ with disabilities.
    • Read President Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech to Congress on Voting Rights in March of 1965.
  • July 1, 1971 -- the 26th Amendment is ratified and lowers the voting age to 18.
  • February 7, 1972 -- the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 is signed into law. It regulates political campaign spending and fundraising.
  • May 20, 1993 -- the National Voter Registration Act is signed into law. It requires state governments to offer voter registration as they apply/renew for their drivers’ licenses, resulting in 30 million people registering to vote in 1993.
    • Sign up to register to vote in your state, and check your voter registration status.
  • October 29, 2002 -- the Help America Vote Act is signed into law. It updates voting systems and creates the Election Assistance Commission. This is a reaction from the 2000 Presidential Election.