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Voting Rights History
Two Centuries of Struggle
In part, this brief timeline describes an American history of
oppression, persecution, and discrimination in regards to voting rights.
In all of these cases those affected were not passive
victims rather they fought back with whatever means they
Similarly, much of this short summary is presented in the form of
legislative and legal milestones. But all of those laws and court cases
were the direct result of popular struggles and mass political pressure.
In no case did benevolent legislators enact civil rights laws or
magnanimous judges rule against discrimination without being forced to
do so by We the People.
The stories of the freedom struggles and resistance to oppression that
resulted in the milestones presented here would (and does) fill
books. A single webpage cannot document the
details of those battles, but it is crucial to remember that from every
act of oppression grew a hundred forms of resistance. And every
victorious milestone on the Freedom Road was achieved with blood, sweat,
The two main issues addressed by the southern Civil Rights Movement of
the 1960s were ending the "Jim Crow" system of segregation and winning
the right to vote for Blacks (and Latinos, Native-Americans, Asians, and
others) in the South and elsewhere.
But the Freedom Movement of the 1960s did not spontaneously spring up
out of nowhere, nor did it disappear when its work was "done." Rather
the Civil Rights Movement was but one episode in a
centuries-long struggle for human freedom and civil rights that
continues to this day. The Movement grew out of what came before and
evolved into the struggles being waged today. Nothing illustrates this
point better than the long battle for voting rights.
Voting Rights Milestones
In essence, the struggle for voting rights in America over the past two
centuries has been a two-part battle. The first part was to win
citizenship rights for people of color. The second part was to win
voting rights for all citizens regardless of gender, economic status,
race, or national origin.
1776: The Vote is Limited to White Males of Property
John Adams writing to James Sullivan, May 26, 1776: "Depend upon it,
sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and
altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the
qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will
arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their
rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing,
will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends
to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to
one common level."
1776: Abigail Adams asks the Continental Congress to support women's
John Adams replies to his wife on April 14, 1776: "We have been told
that our struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That
children and apprentices were disobedient — that schools
and colleges were grown turbulent — that indians
slighted their guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But
your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous
and powerfull than all the rest were grown
discontented. — This is rather too coarse a compliment
but you are so saucy, I won't blot it out. Depend upon it, We know
better than to repeal our masculine systems. ... We have only the Name
of masters, and rather than give up this [woman suffrage], which would
compleatly subject Us to the despotism of the peticoat, I hope General
Washington, and all our brave heroes would fight."
1776-1828: Struggle to remove religious restrictions
Between the first Continental Congress in 1776 and adoption of the U.S.
Constitution in 1787 the former colonies evolved into states, some of
which barred Jews, Quakers, Catholics, and other "heretics," from voting
or holding office. The 1778 Constitution of South Carolina, for example,
stated that "
No person shall be eligible to sit in the house of
representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion." The
Delaware Constitution of 1776 stated that: "
Every person who shall
be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place
of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his
office, shall ... also make and subscribe the following declaration, to
wit: I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus
Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for
evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New
Testament to be given by divine inspiration."
When the new United States Constitution is adopted in 1787 (see below),
Article VI prohibits religion restrictions: "
... but no religious
test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public
trust under the United States." But struggles to remove the
preexisting religious bars continue through the early 1800s, with
Maryland finally extending voting rights to Jews in 1828.
1787: U.S. Constitution Adopted.
In the debates over adopting the U.S. Constitution there are bitter
arguments over who should be allowed to vote. In particular, the
slave states insist that only white males be allowed to vote, yet they
simultaneously demand that their Black slaves be counted when figuring
up how many members of the House of Representatives each state is
The Constitutional Convention cannot agree on any national voting rights
standard so they leave it up to each individual state. This results in
an absurd system whereby the Federal government determines who can be a
citizen for the nation as a whole, but each individual state determines
which of their citizens have the right to vote (or, more accurately,
which of their citizens will be denied the right to vote).
Most of the states decree that only white males are eligible to vote,
and most limit the vote to those white males who own a certain amount of
property. (In other words, if you're an apprentice, or a renter, or
homeless, you can't vote.) Since only a small minority of white males
own enough property to qualify, the great majority of the population is
denied the vote. By some estimates, the percentage of the population
eligible to vote in the presidential election of 1800 is no more than
(Note that under the original Constitution the only Federal offices
anyone could directly vote for were Congressmen (House of
Representatives) because the President was elected by the Electoral
College, and Senators were appointed by the state governments. We still
cannot directly vote for the President, which is why Bush occupied the
White House in 2000 even though Gore received at least 500,000 more
1777-1807: Women lose the right to vote in all states.
The states of New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey
which had previously allowed women to vote rescind those rights. After
1807, no state allows women to vote.
1790: Citizenship limited to "whites."
The 1790 Naturalization Law explicitly states that only "free white"
immigrants can become naturalized citizens. Since "white" is defined as
pure European ancestry, this effectively prevents immigrants from
anywhere else (or immigrants of mixed race) from becoming naturalized
And under the myth that Native-Americans are "citizens" of their
"sovereign" Indian "nations" (meaning the reservations), they cannot be
citizens of the United States. Therefore, Indians cannot vote.
1788-1856: Struggle to remove property restrictions.
For 68 years there are struggles and movements in the various states to
remove the property restrictions on the right to vote. These battles are
often bitter and occasionally violent.
In the state elections of 1821, for example, three out of four New York
City males do not meet the property requirement and can not vote (women,
of course, can not vote at all no matter how rich they are). Over the
next few years an intense and eventually successful political struggle
is waged to remove all property requirements for male voters. But only
for white males. The voting requirements for free Black men is actually
increased. The result is that out of 12,500 free Black men in New York
City, only 60 are able to vote in the election of 1826.
1820-1865: Abolition movement to end slavery.
The first African slaves are brought to North American in 1619 (a year
before the arrival of the Mayflower). Resistance begins
immediately with intermittent slave uprisings and frequent escapes.
Often the escaped slaves join Indian tribes who fight to defend tribal
homelands against white encroachment and expansion of the slave system.
Political opposition to slavery among whites in the northern states
begins to coalesce in the early 1820s. With the founding of the American
Anti-Slave Society in 1833, a broad, interracial political movement
committed to ending slavery commences openly in the
northern states, clandestinely in the south. This "Abolition Movement"
grows in size and intensity and is met with increasingly violent
opposition from slave holders and slave states. Abolitionists are
arrested, beaten, and murdered, their homes are burned and their presses
But within the Abolition Movement there are bitter disagreements
regarding the future of freed slaves. Some favor full citizenship
including the right to vote, others advocate some form of
2nd-class citizenship without voting rights. Many want to expel freed
slaves and send them "back" to Africa (though, of course, the vast
majority of slaves have been born in America). In opposition to the
Anti-Slave Society, these "colonizers" form the American Colonization
Society which sends 20,000 former slaves to Africa where they carve out
the nation of Liberia.
1836: Texas denies vote to Mexicans.
After revolting from Mexico in 1836, the short-lived Republic of Texas
denies citizenship (and the right to own property) to anyone who had not
supported the revolution. All non-Anglos are assumed to be part of that
category even those who had fought for the
When Texas is admitted to the union as a slave state in 1845, the
Mexicans remaining in Texas are granted U.S. citizenship and
property rights by the Federal government in theory. But
Mexican-Americans who try to independently vote face widespread
beatings, burnings, and lynchings except in cases where
large landowners force their employees to vote as a group under
supervision of their foremen who ensure that they all vote for the
owner's preferred candidates.
After the Civil War, the methods used in Texas and other southern states
to deny voting rights to Blacks are also applied to Mexican-Americans.
1848: Mexican-Americans are denied voting rights in the
Under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ends the Mexican-American
war, Mexicans who remain in the new territories conquered by the U.S.
are supposed to become full U.S. citizens according to legislation that
Congress is supposed to pass.
For California that legislation takes the form of admitting it to the
union as a free state in 1850. While technically U.S. citizens,
Mexican-Americans in both Texas and California are denied the vote
through violence and state "voter eligibility" laws. (In other words, in
regards to voting there are similarities between the situations faced by
Mexican-Americans and "free" Blacks.)
The territories of Arizona and New Mexico, however, are not admitted to
the union as states until 1912. During the 64 years between the signing
of the treaty and statehood, Mexican-Americans in those territories are
held in a kind of noncitizen legal limbo without the vote and where
their civil rights can be (and often are) easily violated. During this
period, all laws, claims, and disputes related to land, water, and
livestock are enacted by politicians and resolved by judges who are
elected only by the white settlers who are disputing grants and deeds
dating back to the Mexican and Spanish eras. In some cases settlment of
these disputes take generations, and many Mexican-Americans believe that
the long delay in granting them voting rights is directly connected to
the fortunes at stake.
1848-1920: Women's Suffrage Movement.
In 1848 the first Women's Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, NY.
It demands that women be granted all rights as full citizens including
the right to vote.
For the next 72 years women and some male
supporters speak out, petition, lobby, sue, protest,
march, and engage in civil-disobedience, for the right to vote. They
brave beatings, mob attacks, rape, jail, seizure and destruction of
property, forced divorce (and consequent loss of children),
forced feeding of hunger strikers, and murder, to fight for their right
to be full citizens.
1850: Asian immigration.
With the California gold rush, Asian immigration becomes significant for
the first time, mostly in the American West. Under the "whites-only"
clause of the 1790 Naturalization Law, Asian immigrants cannot be
citizens but what about their children born in America?
Government officials try to avoid this "problem" by preventing Asian
women from coming ashore. Many are sent back, but some avoid detection
and manage to get off the ship. And some Asian men marry women of other
races some of whom are citizens what
happens when their boys reach age 21?
1856: Property restrictions removed.
The last state to finally eliminate the property qualification is North
Carolina in 1856.
1861-1865: Civil War and Emancipation.
The struggle against slavery eventually leads to bloody Civil War.
360,000 Union soldiers Black and
white die to defeat slavery. That is 130 out of every
10,000 persons in the Northern states. (For comparison, deaths in the
Vietnam War numbered 3 out of every 10,000.)
The Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the 13th Amendment (1865)
eventually end slavery as a legal concept (though the actual treatment
of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and plantation laborers continues to
closely resemble slavery in all but the legal formalities).
But it is still left to individual states to determine who is eligible
to vote. Some Northern states extend the vote to
Blacks but most states do not.
1867: 14th Amendment extends citizenship to Blacks.
Under the 14th Amendment all states are required to recognize Black (and
white) males as citizens.
But for the first time women of all races are explicitly excluded in the
Constitution from full citizenship in regards to voting.
1868: Women petition that womens' suffrage be included in the draft
The men of Congress deny their petition.
1870: 15th Amendment extends vote to Blacks.
Adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870 extends voting rights to Black
males in theory.
In reality, there is massive resistance to the intent of the 15th
Amendment, particularly in the Southern states, but also in the North
and Midwest. Violence and economic reprisal are used to intimidate and
prevent Black men from voting.
The 15th Amendment does not apply to Native-Americans or Asians because
they cannot be citizens. Similarly, it does not apply to
Mexican-Americans in New Mexico and Arizona because they live in
territories that are not yet states. While legally eligible to vote in
Texas and California, Mexican-Americans are still denied the vote
through violence and economic retaliation.
During the Reconstruction period, hundreds of thousands of Black men
risk their lives and property to vote, and many are elected to office.
In fact, for a period in the late 1860s, more African-Americans are
registered to vote than whites in the states of the former Confederacy.
1877: End of reconstruction, abandonment of 15th Amendment.
Because of widespread cheating on both sides, the vote count and outcome
of the 1876 presidential election between Hayes the Republican and
Tilden the Democrat is bitterly disputed particularly
the count in the state of Florida. In the end, all disputed counts are
resolved by a special committee appointed by Congress. Republicans
outnumber Democrats on the committee by 8 to 7. All disputes are decided
in favor of the Republicans by a vote of 8 to 7. Hayes is declared the
winner even though most impartial observers believe that Tilden won the
It is widely understood that there's a backroom deal with the Democrats
who represent the overwhelming majority of white voters in the South. In
return for the Democrats accepting Hayes' victory, the Republicans
promise that Hayes will remove the troops and officials who have been
providing at least some limited protection to Blacks in the South. And
that the new Hayes administration will cease enforcing the 15th
Amendment and other civil rights laws. This deal becomes known as the
"Compromise of 1877." The "compromise" being that the Republicans
retain power in Washington while white racists throughout the country
are given free reign to oppress and persecute non-whites.
Hayes takes office, the troops and officials are removed. Civil rights
Reign of terror. The Ku Klux Klan and other racist terrorist
organizations increase their attacks against African-Americans. Blacks
are expelled from office. African-American males who try to vote are
fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, beaten, and in many
cases brutally lynched. Black property owners are burned out, Black
businesses destroyed, entire African-American towns are wiped out.
Legal disenfranchisement. New state laws are passed to
sabotage and render ineffective the 15th Amendment. Among these are the
so called "Literacy Tests" that make it
impossible for non-whites to register, and "Grandfather clauses" that
restrict voting rights to those men whose grandfathers had been eligible
to vote a requirement that descendants of slaves cannot
Poll taxes. Many states impose taxes on voting.
Anyone Black or white who cannot afford
to pay the tax cannot vote. Since the taxes are high and have to be paid
in cash, voting is thus limited to affluent white males. In effect, this
restores a property requirement for voting.
Segregation laws. Laws mandating separation of the races in
education, government services, public facilities & accommodations,
restrooms, transportation, drinking fountains and so on are passed
throughout the South and Midwest. Known as the "Jim Crow" system, their
goal is to force African-Americans into feudal-like subserviency, a form
of semi-slavery. The many Blacks who resist are beaten, jailed, and
murdered. Similar systems are imposed in Western states against Latinos,
Native-Americans, and Asians.
Within a few years most Blacks are removed from the voter registration
rolls and denied the right to vote. All African-Americans who hold
elected office are driven out. In Louisiana, for example, by 1900 fewer
than 5,000 African-Americans are registered to vote, down from a high of
1870-1923: Asians denied citizenship.
The Naturalization Act of 1870 amends the 1790 Naturalization Law to
limit citizenship to "
white persons and persons of African
descent." Thus the ban preventing Asian and Latino immigrants
from becoming naturalized citizens is continued.
But the mid-19th Century wave of Asian immigration to California, other
Western states, and the territory of Hawaii begins to weaken the "whites
only" provision, particularly in regards to children who are born in the
United States and are thus (presumptively) American citizens.
In 1898 the Supreme Court confirms that children of Asians who are born
in the United States are automatically citizens. In response to this
"yellow peril," over the following decades a series of "exclusion acts,"
such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 are enacted, and as are
various "gentlemen's agreements" and court rulings to limit (or prevent
altogether) any further immigration by Asians. Under the "Gentlemem's
Agreement of 1907," for example, Japan limits immigration of its
citizens to America. The Immigration Act of 1917 — which
is passed by Congress over President Wison's
veto — restricts immigration from the "Asiatic Barred
Zone" which encompasses the entire subcontinent of India, all of
Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Persia (Iran), Arabia (& the rest of
the "Mideast"), Asiatic Russia, and the Pacific islands. Since the
Phillipine Islands are now a U.S. colony after being seized from Spain
in the Spanish-American War, Filipinos are allowed entry until 1934 when
they too are restricted.
As with African-Americans, Latinos, and Indians, violence, lynching, and
economic retaliation are widely used against Asians whether they are
citizens or not.
1878: Woman Suffrage Amendment introduced in Congress.
The amendment is introduced in 1878. It takes 42 years of courageous
struggle to finally ratify it in 1920.
1890-1920: Some states grant women the right to vote.
First Wyoming, then Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, and California
extend voting rights to women. Other states follow.
1913: 17th Amendment requires direct popular election of
After decades of political action and public pressure from the Populist
movement, a constitutional amendment is passed requiring direct election
of Senators by the people rather than Senators being appointed by state
1920: 19th Amendment extends right to vote to women.
After an epic 72 year struggle, women finally win the right to vote. But
prejudice and discrimination against women candidates and office holders
continues for decades.
1924: Native-American citizenship.
Congress passes legislation extending United States citizenship to all
Indians born in the United States. Many states continue to deny
Native-Americans the right to vote using the same kinds of legal
fictions, violence, and economic retaliation that is used to deny the
vote to Blacks, Latinos, and Asians.
1942-1952: Asian citizenship rights.
As an emergency war measure enacted in 1942, Filipinos in the United
States and the Philippine Islands are declared to be American
citizens. This means they are eligible for the military draft. (In 1946
this citizenship declaration is revoked by the Recision Act in order to
deny Filipinos their veteran benefits, voting rights, and of course
To strengthen the WWII alliance with China, the Chinese Exclusion Acts
are overturned in 1943.
In 1946, the exclusion act against immigrants from the Indian
subcontinent are repealed. In 1952 all remaining Asian exclusion acts
are replaced by the immigration "quota system" that allows for some
Asian immigration but greatly favors European immigrants.
1944: "White-only" Primaries Ruled Unconstitutional.
After the "Compromise of 1877" ends Reconstruction, most southern Blacks
are denied the vote. Out of loathing for Lincoln (a Republican), fury at
their defeat by the hated "Yankees" in the Civil War, and rage at
Emancipation of their Black slaves, southern whites refuse to vote for
any Republican for any office ever. Thus the "Solid
South" comes into being only Democrats can be elected.
White southerners proudly declare themselves "Yellow-dog Democrats,"
meaning that if the Democratic Party nominates a yellow dog for office
they will vote for the dog before they vote for a Republican candidate.
In practical terms, the "Solid South" means that the real election is
the Democratic Primary because the Democrat who wins the nominatation
inevitably wins the general election. In many southern states, the
white-controlled Democratic Party decrees that only whites can vote in
the Democratic primary. This effectively disenfranchises the few Blacks
who have managed to register to vote because they are prevented from
voting in the only elections that have any meaning (the primaries).
In 1944, NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall wins Smith v. Allwright
in the U.S. Supreme Court which rules that "all-white" primary elections
are unconstitutional. In many areas of the South, the Democratic Party
evades this ruling by simply no longer publicly proclaiming that only
whites can vote in their primaries. Voter registration forms do not ask
for party affiliation, so it's left to party officials to determine who
is a party member and thus eligible to vote in party primaries. Blacks
are not accepted as party members.
1945-1960: GIs fight for civil rights.
When Black, Latino, and Indian GIs return from the battlefields of WWII
(and later Korea), they demand that all American citizens have the right
to vote regardless of race. They had fought and died for democracy
abroad, yet they cannot vote at home. (One out of every eight American
GIs was an African-American; Latinos and Native-Americans also made up
significant portions of the armed forces, which for the most part were
organized on a segregated basis.)
On local, state, and federal levels GIs fight against the laws, customs,
and oppression denying them the vote and other civil rights. Before WWII
the NAACP numbered around 50,000 members, in the post-war years it
swells ten times to over 500,000.
But the racists who hold economic power and political
office particularly in the U.S.
Senate are too strong. Most legislative remedies are
blocked and few court cases are successful. For the most part, the GI
movements are defeated and suppressed. Many GIs who had fought to free
Europe from Nazi tyranny find themselves imprisoned for demanding the
right to vote, and others are viciously murdered often
by police and sheriffs.
Yet despite a wave of repression, they do manage to eliminate the poll
tax in all but 5 states. And in 1948 the armed forces are desegregated.
1948: State laws denying the vote to Native-Americans are
In one of the post-war period's few successful legal challenges, the
Federal courts overturn the last state laws (Maine, Arizona, New Mexico)
that explicitly prevent Indians from voting. Violence, economic
retaliation, and different kinds of legal tricks continue to be used to
prevent Native-Americans from voting.
1954-1960: Early Civil Rights Movement activity.
In the early 1950s, a number of school desegregation cases are filed in
the federal courts by courageous students and parents who risk life and
property by opposing the segregation system. In 1954 these cases are
consolidated and won in the Supreme Court with the Brown v Board of
In 1955 and 1956, African-Americans opposed to segregation boycott the
city busses in Montgomery Alabama and Tallahassee Florida. These
successful boycotts mark significant victories against segregation in
the deep south.
Hundreds of voting rights lawsuits are filed in state and federal
courts. Most are either defeated, or if won they are left unenforced.
But Citizenship Schools, voter
education projects, and "I'm a registered voter Are
you?" campaigns begin to proliferate among African-Americans at the
grassroots level across the south.
1960-1965: Civil Rights Movement demands the right to vote.
With the explosion of the direct-action phase of the Civil Rights
Movement sit-ins, freedom rides, marches,
boycotts voting rights and segregation emerge as the two
central issues, intertwined and inseparable.
Participatory direct-action organizations such as CORE, SCLC, and SNCC
take the fight for voting rights and desegregation into the deepest
depths of the racist South Mississippi, Alabama,
Louisiana, and Georgia. The slogan becomes "One Man, One Vote,"
and instead of lawsuits the strategy is to organize people at the
grassroots to directly challenge and defy the entire
"whites-only" system by demanding desegregation and the right to vote
face-to-face, county-by-county, state-by-state.
Resistance to Black voter registration and defense of segregation by the
KKK and White Citizens Councils is ruthless. And the entire range of law
enforcement from the cop on the beat to FBI Headquarters
in Washington mobilizes to defend the established order.
Tens of thousands of would-be voters are fired or evicted, entire tent
cities have to be set up to house sharecroppers thrown off their land
for trying to register to vote. Hundreds, then thousands are jailed.
Beatings, burnings, and economic retaliation are
widespread. Many the actual number has never been
counted are murdered. This resistance to civil rights is
coordinated and orchestrated by powerful political and economic
But the Movement soldiers on, we bury our dead and weep for our wounded
but we don't turn back. The Movement explodes in Albany, Americus,
Birmingham, Bogalusa, Cambridge, Canton, Chapel Hill,
Charlotte, Danville, Gadsden, Gainesville, Greenwood, Greensboro,
Hattiesburg, Jackson, McComb, Monroe, Montgomery, Nashville, New
Orleans, Rock Hill, Ruleville, St. Augustine,
Selma, Shreveport, Tallahasse, and a thousand other towns and hamlets.
It is a mass Movement of people, not lawyers or lobbyists (though they
too play important roles).
1964: 24th Amendment ends poll taxes.
The 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes in federal elections.
1964-1965: Freedom Summer and the Selma to Montgomery March
During the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, close to a thousand civil rights
workers of all races and backgrounds from across the country converge on
Mississippi to support voting rights and confront segregation. This is
followed in August by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's
challenge to the whites-only Mississippi delegation at the Democratic
convention in Atlantic City. The self-evident justice of that challenge
is ignored by Johnson and Humphrey and the challenge is denied.
A few months later mass protests and marches begin in Selma Alabama.
Thousands of African-Americans put their lives on the line by attempting
to register to vote in Selma and surrounding counties. They are met with
savage violence from police and Klan. They face beatings, gassing,
jailings, and murder. Mass marches in Selma, Montgomery, Demopolis,
Marion, Camden and elsewhere are viciously attacked. Jimmie Lee Jackson,
Rev. James Reeb, Viola Luizzo, and Jonathan Daniels are murdered. But
the people refuse to back down and the movement grows as thousands of
Americans from all walks of life come to Selma in support. 25,000
people of all races march to the
Statehouse in Montgomery Alabama, the "cradle of the Confederacy."
1965: Passage of Voting Rights Act.
It takes 57 days of floor fights and mass protests in the streets of
Washington to break the filibuster by Southern Senators determined to
block the Voting Rights Act. For just the second time in history, a
southern filibuster on a civil rights issue is defeated on a bitterly
divided vote. The Act is passed.
Though in some respects weaker than what had been hoped for, among other
provisions the Voting Rights Act:
Outlaws phony voting "requirements" such as
"literacy tests," designed to
deny the vote to people based on their race or color. This applies not
only to Blacks but also to Indians, Asians, and Mexican-Americans.
Authorizes the Federal government to take over registration of
voters in areas where local officials have consistently denied voting
rights to non-whites.
Establishes that fluency in English cannot be made a requirement for
1966: Voting Rights Act takes effect.
By the end of the 1965, some 250,000 new Black voters have been
registered in the South. By the end of 1966, only 4 out of the 13
southern states have fewer than 50 percent of African-Americans
registered to vote. In the following years, Black registration in
Alabama grows more than tenfold, from 50,000 in 1960 to more than
500,000 in 1990. And by 1990, the number of southern Black legislators
has risen from 2 to 160 an increase of 8000%.
But though the legal barriers to voter registration are weakened or
overturned by the Voting Rights Act, terror and economic retaliation
continue to be used for a few more years against citizens-of-color who
try to register to vote, particularly Blacks in the South and Latinos
and Native-Americans in the Southwest. The Civil Rights Movement
continues the fight, with the "Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear,"
and mass direct-action campaigns in towns such as
Grenada and Natchez Mississippi.
1966: Poll taxes outlawed in state elections.
The Supreme Court finally rules that the use of poll taxes in
state elections violates the equal protection clause of the 14th
Amendment to the Constitution. The last remaining poll taxes are
1970: 26th Amendment lowers voting age to 18.
Faced with widespread protests against the Vietnam war and growing
resistance to the military draft, the voting age is lowered to equal the
draft age. (Anti-war protests and draft resistance continue.)
1975: Extension of Voting Rights Act to "Language
The Voting Rights Act is expanded to address voting rights of "language
minorities." Based on the determination that voting discrimination
against language minorities "is pervasive and national in scope,"
provisions are added to ensure that citizens who speak languages other
than English are not denied their voting rights. As a result,
non-English voting materials and assistance now have to be provided
2000: Republican-directed disenfranchisement of Blacks in
Prior to the election of 2000, Jeb Bush the Republican Governor of
Florida and brother of Presidential candidate George
Bush hires a private company long associated with the
Republican party to "purge" the Florida voting rolls of "ineligible"
voters. Along with voters who really are ineligible, tens of thousands
of legally registered Black voters are illegally stripped from the
rolls. When they arrive at the polls on election day, they are told they
George Bush's supposed 537 vote "victory" in Florida is a direct result
of this denial of African-American voting rights. It is this phony "win"
(plus the votes of the 5 Republican appointees on the Supreme Court)
that makes him President, even though Gore receives 500,000
more votes nationwide than Bush.
According to the report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil rights:
Widespread voter disenfranchisement not the
dead heat contest was the extraordinary feature in the
Violations of the Voting Rights Act occurred in Florida and there
was widespread denial of voting rights.
Black voters were nearly 10 times more likely than non-Black voters
to have their ballots rejected.
The state's highest officials responsible for ensuring fairness in
the election failed to fulfill their responsibilities and were
subsequently unwilling to take responsibility.
Had tens of thousands of Black voters not been illegally denied their
right to vote, Democratic candidate Al Gore would certainly have carried
the state by a comfortable margin and he would have
Today: Immigration Reform and Path to Citizenship
As of the mid-2010s there are an estimated 10-15 million undocumented
("illegal") immigrants in America, comprising somehwere around 5% of the
labor force. The great majority of them work, pay taxes, and raise their
families in the United States. Most of them are nonwhite. For years
there have been political movements and proposed legislation to provide
some path for them to become citizens (and, therefore, voters). The
common wisdom is that if these millions of undocumented workers were
eligible to vote, most of them would vote Democratic. Therefore, the
Republican Party consistently and adamantly blocks all efforts towards
allowing any of them to become voting citizens.
Today: Voter Suppression
Beginning with the bitterly contested Presidential election of 2000,
political parties are increasingly devoting energy and money towards
"suppressing" the turnout of demographic groups who traditionally favor
the other side. The Republican Party is particularly active in targeting
naturalized immigrant citizens, Blacks, Latinos, college students, and
those seniors who traditionally vote Democratic. Suppression tactics
include both legal ploys and outright deceit. Some examples include:
- Voter ID laws. In a number of states, Republicans have passed
laws requiring voters to show a photo-ID before they can cast their
ballots. These laws discourage voting by the elderly and poor who are
less likely to posses a valid drivers license or other form of photo ID.
In some cases, the partisan nature of the ID requirements are blatant.
For example, after the Supreme Court gutted the pre-clearance provison
of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republicans in Texas immediately
implemented a new Voter ID law which includes permits to carry a
concealed pistol as a valid form of voter-ID, but not student photo-ID
cards issued by colleges and universities.
- Targeted voter purges. In Georgia and other states, minority,
immigrant, and college student voters have been disproportionately
"purged" from the rolls on various pretexts.
- Deceit. Political "dirty tricks" are increasingly being used
by both parties to suppress voter turnout of those who tend to favor the
other side. Examples include false notification that polling places have
been changed, directing voters to phony email or web addresses where
they can supposedly vote online, conducting voter registration drives
and then failing to turn in those forms where a voter registered for the
opposing party, mass-mailings of counterfeit absentee ballots with false
return addresses, and so on.
Today: Voting rights and the criminal justice system
1.4 million Black men (13% of adult African-American males) are denied
the right to vote because they served time in prison. In 5 states
(including Florida) more than
one-in-four adult male
African-Americans are disenfranchised. Latinos and
Native-Americans are similarly affected.
From 1980 to 2000 the number of prisoners in the U.S. increased by more
than 300% (while total population increased by only 24%). At the present
rate of incarceration, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that
6.6% of Americans born in 2001 will spend time in prison. This is the
highest incarceration rate in the world.
Despite having served their sentences and paid their penalties, many
ex-prisoners after their release:
14 states disenfranchise former inmates for life.
32 states disenfranchise former inmates while on parole.
29 states disenfranchise former inmates on probation.
Tomorrow: The fight to have our votes count.
In the 19th and 20th Centuries we fought to expand the right to
vote. The voting rights struggle of the 21st Century will be to have our
votes count. Not the right to have our votes
counted though as we saw in Florida in 2000, that
too may be a crucial issue but rather the right to have
our votes mean something.
- The best democracy that money can buy. In Citizens United
v. Federal Election Commission, 2010, the Republican-appointed
5-vote conservative majority on the Supreme Court decrees that secret,
unlimited corporate funding for political ads is a form of
Constitutionally protected "free speech." This decision dramatically
shifts electoral influence away from individual voters by allowing
wealthy individuals and corporations to covertly buy the election
results they want with a flood of cash. At the same time, super-sized
corporate campaign contributions given directly to candidates have
become a legally-sanctioned form of outright bribery.
- Un-elected global government. As more and more of us have won
the right to vote, the power to make critical decisions has been moved
out of the hands of elected local, state, and federal officials and into
the grasp of un-elected global commissioners appointed and controlled by
multinational corporations. More and more, the vital decisions that
affect our lives decisions on the economy, trade, jobs,
environment, worker-safety, privacy, communication, and so much
more are being made by world "trade" organizations such
as the WTO, GATT, NAFTA, TRIPS, FTAA, and so on, who debate the issues
that affect our lives in secret and issue decrees that cannot be
appealed or amended. And their decisions override those made by our
elected officials at all levels.
The stuggle continues ...