Voting Rights Throughout United States History

Voting Rights Throughout United States History

Voting rights in the United States have not always been equally accessible. African Americans and women of all ethnicities have fought, and continue to fight, especially hard to have their voices heard.




Voter Registration Drive at the 1973 Black Expo

Voting largely left out nonwhite men and women, regardless of color, for much of American history. This voter registration drive at the Black Expo in Chicago, Illinois, took place just eight years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed in 1973.

Photograph from John White/U.S. National Archives/Alamy Images
Voting largely left out nonwhite men and women, regardless of color, for much of American history. This voter registration drive at the Black Expo in Chicago, Illinois, took place just eight years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed in 1973.
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The U.S. Constitution allows all U.S. citizens age 18 or older to vote in the state where they live. But it took many years to convince politicians to pass laws supporting this important American right.

Voting After The American Revolution

The United Sates adopted the Constitution in 1787. According to Article 1, states make the rules for national elections. At first, only white men who owned land had the right to suffrage, or to vote. The country's founders believed owning land made these men important.

In the early 1800s, some men agreed more people should be allowed to vote. White men continued to move west seeking land. Many did not feel that men should have to own land to vote. Many states dropped that rule, allowing all white men to vote.

Voting After The Civil War

After the American Civil War in the 1860s, the men who controlled Congress were primarily white Northerners who wanted to limit the power of the South.

After the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, many free black Americans lived in the South. Congress saw a chance to extend voting rights to newly free black men. In 1870, the 15th Amendment changed voting rights again. Now black men, including those who had previously been slaves, could vote.

The 14th Amendment of 1869 said anyone born in the United States was a citizen. The Indian Citizen Act of 1924 allowed indigenous Americans to vote. But the United States did not enforce that in all states until 40 years later.

The 14th Amendment was at the center of the movement that challenged discrimination of black Americans. Discrimination included making it difficult to vote. Some state laws made people pay a poll tax and pass a literacy test before they could vote. Many blacks also faced harassment and violence. Some were lynched.

In the 1960s, many people participated in speeches, sit-ins and marches. These events supported the right of blacks to vote. The 24th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected the right of black Americans and others to vote.

The Fight For Women's Suffrage

Women in the mid 19th century faced discrimination. They thought women and black Americans should be allowed to vote. A women's rights movement developed around the 1840s. Leaders included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott of New York.

Mott and Stanton planned the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. At this meeting in New York state, they introduced the "Declaration of Sentiments." They rewrote the Declaration of Independence and wrote that "all men and women are created equal." This was an important step toward women's right to vote in the United States.

In 1869, Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote. For decades, women and some men held protests and marches arguing for women's right to vote in the whole country. Society slowly changed to allow women more visible roles. This helped people change their minds on the issue.

Activists continued to fight for the vote. They used marches and speeches to get attention. They finally gained support from President Woodrow Wilson and other politicians. After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, white women had the right to vote. African American women continued to face obstacles to vote for many years following the 19th Amendment More women then began to take part in politics and government.

Lowering The Voting Age

Through the 1960s, the voting age in the United States was 21. America was fighting a war in Vietnam at that time. Americans saw it was unfair that men and women old enough to go to war were not able to vote.

In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age for U.S. citizens by three years. Today, 18-year-olds across the country have the right to vote.

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Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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