Voting Rights Timeline

Colonial America

Colonial America

1776 - 1777

Voting rights vary among the colonies, but leaders
agree that only individuals who have a “stake
in society” should be allowed to vote, meaning
white male property owners and taxpayers.
Some colonies have religious requirements, banning
Catholics or Jews. The U.S. Constitution
leaves voting rights for the states to decide. The
Panic of 1819, the nation’s first major financial
crisis, leads to demands that property restrictions

US Constitution adopted


U.S. Constitution adopted. Because there is no agreement on a national standard for voting rights, states are given the power to regulate their own voting laws. In most cases, voting remains in the hands of white male landowners.
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George Washington elected


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Citizen = White


Naturalization law passed. It explicitly states only "free white" immigrants can become naturalized citizens.

Pre Civil War

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo


The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War and guarantees U.S. citizenship to Mexicans living in the territories conquered by the U.S. However, English language requirements and violent intimidation limit access to voting rights.

Women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY


Frederick Douglass, a newspaper editor and former slave, attends the event and gives a speech supporting universal voting rights. His speech helps convince the convention to adopt a resolution calling for voting rights for women. About 300 activists gather for a convention
in Seneca Falls, N.Y., to strategize on
women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
and Lucretia Mott, along with 60 other
women and 32 men, sign the Declaration
of Sentiments and Resolutions, modeled
on the Declaration of Independence,
which calls for equal treatment of women
and men under the law and voting rights
for women. !{300px; height: 99px;}

Vote expanded to all white men


North Carolina is the last state to remove property ownership as a requirement to vote

Post Civil War legislation

Movements unite and divide


Two women’s rights activists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, form an organization for white and black women and men dedicated to the goal of universal voting rights. The organization later divides and regroups over disagreements in strategies to gain the vote for women and African Americans.

14th Amendment passed


14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. Citizenship is defined and granted to former slaves. Voters, however, are explicitly defined as male. Although the amendment forbids states from denying any rights of citizenship, voting regulation is still left in the hands of the states. Note the 14th Amendment while introduced to Congress in 1865, did not pass until 1866. It was officially ratified in 1868.

15th Amendment passed


15th Amendment passed. It states that the right to vote cannot be denied by the federal or state governments based on race. However, soon after, some states begin to enact measures such as voting taxes and literacy tests that restrict the actual ability of African Americans to register to vote. Violence and other intimidation tactics are also used. !{width: 100px; height: 99px;}

Women try to vote


Susan B. Anthony is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York, for attempting to vote in the presidential election. At the same time, Sojourner Truth, a
former slave and advocate for justice and equality, appears at a polling booth in Grand Rapids, Michigan, demanding a ballot but she is turned away. !{width: 100px; 66px;}

Indigenous people cannot vote

  • The Supreme Court rules that Native Americans are not citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment and, thus, cannot vote.

The Chinese Exclusion Act


The Chinese Exclusion Act bars people of Chinese ancestry from naturalizing to become U.S. citizens.

Dawes Act passed


It grants citizenship to Native Americans who give up their tribal affiliations

Golden Era - Post WWI

Indigenous people must apply for citizenship


The Indian Naturalization Act grants citizenship to Native Americans whose applications are approved—similar to the process of immigrant naturalization.

Wyoming admitted to statehood


Wyoming admitted to statehood and becomes first state to legislate voting for women in its constitution.

Women lead voting rights marches

1912 - 1913

Women lead voting rights marches through New York and Washington, D.C.

19th Amendment passes


Right to vote extended to women

Asian ≠ White ≠ Citizen


Supreme Court rules that people of Japanese heritage are ineligible to become naturalized citizens. In the next year, the Court finds that Asian Indians are also not eligible to naturalize.

The Indian Citizen Act


The Indian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to Native Americans, but many states nonetheless make laws and policies which prohibit Native Americans from voting

Post WWII - Lyndon Baines Johnson

Military Service = Citizenship for Filipinos


Congress bars Filipinos from U.S. citizenship unless they have served three years in the Navy.

State violence


While attempting to register to vote in Birmingham, Alabama, a group of African American women are beaten by election officials. !{width: 100px; height: 66px;}

Legal barriers removed


Miguel Trujillo, a Native American and former Marine, sues New Mexico for not allowing him to vote. He wins and New Mexico and Arizona are required to give the vote to all Native Americans.

McCarran-Walter Act


McCarran-Walter Act grants all people of Asian ancestry the right to become

23rd Amendment passes


It gives citizens of Washington, D.C. the right to vote for U.S. President.But to this day, the district’s residents—most of whom are African American—still do not have voting representation in Congress

Voting rights as civil rights

1963 - 1964
  • Large-scale efforts in the South to register African Americans to vote are intensified. However, state officials refuse to allow African Americans to register by using voting taxes, literacy tests and violent intimidation. Among the efforts launched is Freedom Summer, where close to a thousand civil rights workers of all races and backgrounds converge on the South to support voting rights. !{width: 150px; height: 99px;}

24th Amendment passes


It guarantees that the right to vote in federal elections will not be denied for failure to pay any tax. !{width: 100px; height: 66px;}

Civil Rights to Present

Voting Rights Act passed


It forbids states from imposing discriminatory restrictions on who can vote, and provides mechanisms for the federal government to enforce its provisions. The legislation is passed largely under pressure from protests and marches earlier that year challenging Alabama officials who injured and killed people during African American voter registration efforts. !{width: 150px; height: 198px;}

Struggle continues for social change


Civil rights activist James Meredith is wounded by a sniper during a solo “Walk Against Fear” voter registration march between Tennessee and Mississippi. The next
day, nearly 4,000 African Americans register to vote. And other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael continue the march while Meredith
heals. Meredith rejoins March at its conclusion in Mississippi. !{with: 100px; height: 165px;}

26th Amendment passed


26th Amendment passed, granting voting rights to 18-year-olds. The amendment is largely a result of Vietnam War-protests demanding a lowering of the voting age on
the premise that people who are old enough to fight are old enough to vote.

Voting materials in various languages


Amendments to Voting Rights Act require that certain voting materials be printed in languages besides English so that people who do not read English can participate in the voting process

Making voter registration easier


National Voter Registration Act passed. Intends to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote by making registration available at the Department of
Motor Vehicles, and public assistance and disabilities agencies.

Residents of U.S. colonies are citizens, but cannot vote

  • A month prior to the presidential election, a federal court decides that Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico, though U.S. citizens, cannot vote for U.S. president. Residents of U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands—nearly 4.1 million people total—cannot vote in presidential elections and do not have voting representation in the U.S Congress.

Debate - voting rights of felons


The National Commission on Federal Election Reform recommends that all states allow felons to regain their right to vote after completing their criminal
sentences. Nearly 4 million US citizens cannot vote because of past felony convictions. In California, felons are prohibited from voting while they are in prison
or on parole. But, in other states, especially in the South, a person with a felony conviction is forever prohibited from voting in that state. These laws are a legacy of
post-Civil War attempts to prevent African Americans from voting. Ex-felons are largely poor and of color.

Election inconsisency


Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in response to disputed 2000 presidential election. Massive voting reform effort requires states comply with federal mandate
for provisional ballots, disability access, centralized, computerized voting lists, electronic voting and requirement that first-time voters present identification before voting.



In 2003, the Texas Legislature redrew lines for its 32
congressional districts to replace a court-drawn map
based on the 2000 census. Plaintiffs challenge the new
map on the grounds that it violates the one person, one
vote requirement, dilutes the votes of people of color and
violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The
Supreme Court decides that states can redraw their congressional districts at their discretion.

Shelby County v Holder


In April 2010, Shelby County, Alabama (a largely white suburb of Birmingham) filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC asking that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act be declared unconstitutional. Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, No. 1:10-cv-00651 (D.D.C.). The county asserts that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority when, in 2006, it reauthorized Section 5 for another 25 years. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the coverage formula reauthorized by Congress is unconstitutional.