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Don’t take the right to vote for granted

Be part of history: vote in the 2020 election. Whether you vote on November 3 or by mail or in-person before then, you are exercising your right to vote. For most of us, you are exercising a hard-fought-for right to vote.

In case you need a reminder of why we should not take our right to vote for granted, here is an overview of the gradual process it has been for non-property owning white males to vote. Over the next few years, we hope to see even more people—such as those with felony convictions—able to vote.

If you need resources on how to encourage election engagement, check out our resource library.


Landmark Voting Rights Events

1789: U.S. Constitution Ratified

The Constitution granted states the power to set voting requirements. States generally limited this right to property-owning or tax-paying white males (about 6% of the population at that time).

1866: Civil Rights Act of 1866 Passed

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was the first federal law to grant citizenship, but not the right to vote, to all persons born in the U.S. without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.

1868: The 14th Amendment Granted Citizenship to Former Slaves

The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all persons born and naturalized in the U.S., including former slaves, but limited voting rights to male citizens.

1870: The 15th Amendment Gave Citizens the Right to Vote

The 15th Amendment gave U.S. citizens the right to vote without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

1915: Grandfather Clauses Declared Unconstitutional

In 1915, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that grandfather clauses were unconstitutional because they violated equal voting rights guaranteed by the 15th Amendment. Louisiana was the first state to pass a “grandfather clause” in 1898 to keep former slaves and their descendants from voting. The law stated that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, and their descendants, would be exempt from recently enacted educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because former slaves had not been granted the right to vote until the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870, these clauses effectively excluded Black people from the vote but gave many impoverished and illiterate whites this right. As a result, the number of registered Black voters dropped from 44.8% in 1896 to 4.0% four years later. Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia followed Louisiana’s lead by enacting their own grandfather clauses.

1920: The 19th Amendment Gave Women the Right to Vote

This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, but Black women and other women of color still faced additional challenges to voting after the 19th Amendment passed.

1924: Native Americans Granted the Right to Vote

Native Americans were granted citizenship and the right to vote through the Indian Citizenship Act, regardless of their tribal affiliations. However, some Western states continued to bar Native Americans from voting until 1948.

1964: Civil Rights Act of 1964 Became Law

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The landmark civil rights and labor law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements.

1965: Voting Rights Act of 1965 Was Passed

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law in 1965. The VRA permanently abolished voter prerequisites, prohibited any election practice that denied the right to vote on account of race, and required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval for changes in their election laws before they could take effect.

1971: The 26th Amendment Lowered the Voting Age to 18

The 26th Amendment granted all citizens who are 18 years of age or older the right to vote.

1986: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act Became Law

United States military members and citizens living abroad were granted the right to vote by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

2013: Shelby County v. Holder Decision Limits Voting Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder decimated one of the most effective protections for the right to vote: the requirement that certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination get pre-approval for voting changes, which was rendered ineffective. States, including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana, wasted no time enacting potentially discriminatory laws.

2020: A Global Pandemic Impacts Voting Rights

The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes to the way states conduct their primary elections after the middle of March. In some states, voters had to choose between risking their health to vote in person or mailing an absentee ballot that might not be counted.

For instance, in Wisconsin, the court refused to extend the timeframe during which mail-in ballots would be counted, requiring many voters to vote in person at a limited number of polling places to make sure their vote was counted.  Having to send mail-in ballots on short notice created another barrier. Since the global public health crisis continues to limit many people’s movement, some states have opted to rely more heavily on voting by mail or early voting for the November election. Other states still do not accept COVID-related health concerns as an excuse for absentee voting.

November 3, 2020: Election Day

Voters can be part of history with their vote. While many voters will have already voted, November 3 is the last day for voters to cast their ballot.

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