John Adams was writing a letter to James Sullivan explaining why changing the requirement to vote would be so controversial. He wrote this shortly after the American Revolution and before the signing of the US Constitution. He stated that women, and poor men would soon want the right to vote and believed that the qualification to vote should not be changed. This is important to voting because it established who could vote and who could not. Also it gave some groups access to power that others did not have.
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.
The men of Congress deny their petition.
The amendment is introduced in 1878. It takes 42 years of courageous struggle to finally ratify it in 1920.
First Wyoming, then Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, and California extend voting rights to women. Other states follow.
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.
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
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 Education decision.
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.
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 interests.
The 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes in federal elections
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:
1. 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.
2. Authorizes the Federal government to take over registration of voters in areas where local officials have consistently denied voting rights to non-whites.
3. Establishes that fluency in English cannot be made a requirement for voting eligibility.
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.)