Timeline - Important Dates in the Voting History of the United States

  • At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, free white male property owners have the right to vote unless they are members of certain religious groups.

  • Asian Americans are deemed “aliens ineligible for citizenship” and are denied the right to vote. The state of New Jersey grants women the right to vote by using the term “he or she” in revision of voting laws.

  • New Hampshire prohibits the property ownership requirement to vote, granting suffrage to poor white males.

  • White male immigrants could register to vote after living in the United States for 14 years. In 1902, the residency requirement was reduced to 5 years.

  • Religious affiliation is eliminated as a voting requirement.

  • Literate, bilingual Mexican male property owners in the Southwest are granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote.

  • Connecticut is the first state to enact a literacy test requirement to vote.

  • U.S. citizenship—but not suffrage—is granted to native-born Americans.

  • U.S. Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment (on Feb 26th, 1869) granting suffrage to African American men.

    The state of Wyoming grants women the right to vote in all elections.

  • The Fifteenth Amendment—granting suffrage to African American men—is ratified on Feb 3rd, by three-fourths of the states.

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act denies U.S. citizenship and the right to vote to Chinese American.

  • In the case of Elk v. Wilkins, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the right to vote to Native Americans in Nebraska.

  • The Dawes General Allotment Act grants conditional citizenship to Native Americans who relinquish all tribal ideologies.

  • A poll tax is passed in the state of Florida, denying many African Americans the right to vote. Florida institutes the Eight Box Law—the use of eight unmarked ballot boxes—to sow confusion, allowing the arbitrary disposal of ballots.

  • Native Americans were allowed to apply for citizenship with the passage of the Indian Naturalization Act.

  • A number of states in the north and south introduce literacy tests as a voting requirement. Numerous states enact literacy tests as a voting requirement. Not only Southern states enact this type of restriction. The tests also exclude uneducated whites from voting. “Grandfather clause” laws, allowing only those citizens whose grandfathers had voted before 1870 the right to vote, are passed in several states.

  • In Guinn v. United States, the United States Supreme Court deems unconstitutional the use of the “grandfather clause” to deny African American citizens the right to vote.

  • The Nineteenth Amendment grants women the right to vote.

  • The United States Supreme Court case, Takao Ozawa v. United States, denies U.S. citizenship to persons of Japanese descent, thus denying them the right to vote.

  • The United States Supreme Court deems high caste Hindus are recognized as Caucasians and may become naturalized U.S. citizens. (Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States)

  • The Indian Citizenship Act gave the right of citizenship to Native Americans who were born in the United States. Individual states, however, could still deny them the right to vote.

  • On December 6, the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholds the state of Georgia’s right to levy poll taxes.

  • Southern states record that only three percent of African American citizens are registered to vote.

  • In, King v. Chapman, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the state of Georgia’s “white primary only” practice is unconstitutional.

  • South Carolina’s right to continue its white primary practice is declared unconstitutional by a federal court in the case Elmore v. Rice.

  • The McCarran-Walter Act grants the right of U.S. citizenship to Japanese Americans born in the United States.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1957 gives the U. S. Department of Justice the right to initiate lawsuits on behalf of African Americans denied the right to vote.

  • On August 29, the U. S. Supreme Court rules in the case Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections that literacy tests in North Carolina do not violate any constitutional rights.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1960 grants African Americans the ability to register to vote at a federal court if they have previously been denied the right to register.

  • The Twenty-third Amendment grants District of Columbia residents the right to vote in presidential elections.

  • In the U. S. Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr, states are ordered to redraw district lines according to district population. Some states had drawn district lines that divided the African American voter population to assure white candidates’ victories in state elections.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. leads a “March on Washington” to address African American rights. King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial and assures the nation that African Americans will vigorously pursue their constitutional rights.

  • The Twenty-fourth Amendment declares the use of poll taxes unconstitutional in presidential and congressional elections.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passes. The Act declares that a person may not be discriminated against based on gender, religion, race, and nationality.

  • On March 7, after crossing the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, nonviolent civil rights protesters are attacked by police dogs, assaulted with fire hoses, and brutally beaten by police.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring that the national government would take immediate action against any unconstitutional acts that limit minority group voting rights. The act also declares that literacy tests are unconstitutional.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court finds in South Carolina v .Katzenbach that the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress the right to prevent voting discrimination. The ruling further states that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gives the federal government the right to use any means against actions that deny African Americans the right to vote.

    Edward Brooke from Massachusetts is the first African American elected to the U. S. Senate.

  • Shirley Chisolm, from the state of New York, is the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Eight other African Americans are also elected.

  • President Richard M. Nixon signs renewed provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Southern states with long histories of voter discrimination seek and receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department for any changes in their voting laws.

  • The Twenty-sixth Amendment grants 18-year-old Americans the right to vote.

  • A Tennessee voting law requiring a one-year state residency and a three-month county residency is struck down by the U. S. Supreme Court. (Dunn v. Blumstein)

    Barbara Jordan of Texas and Andrew Young from Georgia are the first African Americans from Southern states to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives since the 1870s.

  • The United States Supreme Court grants states the right to deny convicted felons of their right to vote. (Richardson v. Ramirez).

  • Literacy tests used as voting qualifications are declared unconstitutional. In the case, White v. Regester, the U. S. Supreme Court rules that voting district lines in the state of Texas are unconstitutional and had been drawn in an attempt to minimize minority voting power in certain districts.

  • The U. S. Supreme Court determines that any racial discrimination occurring during the voting process must be proven by the discriminated voter. Minority groups deemed this decision as a major setback to their voting rights. (City of Mobile v. Bolden)

  • President Ronald Reagan signs the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. New provisions extend voting rights protection to the blind, disabled, and illiterate voter.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law, requires that services to support disabled citizens must be provided by election workers and polling sites.

  • The National Voter Registration Act, often referred to as the "Motor Voter Act," requires states to accept voter registration by mail. The act states that a citizen may register to vote at any motor vehicle registration site, public buildings such as libraries and schools, and state agencies such as unemployment and welfare services offices.

  • The Help America Vote Act provides funds to states to replace old and outdated voting machines and to improve the procedures of elections.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court Rules that a Texas plan to redraw voting districts is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act (League of Latin American Citizens v. Perry)

    Congress extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years.

  • An Indian law requiring that a government-issued photo identification card must be presented at polling sites is overturned the U.S. Supreme Court. (Crawford v. Marion County)

  • The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act allows military and non-military American citizens serving in foreign countries to receive voter registration cards and absentee ballots. The act also allows voter registration cards and absentee ballots to be submitted electronically or by mail.

  • A record number of state legislatures nationwide, vote to include photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting and restrictions to voter registration. Many of these states have histories of voter discrimination and are covered under the VRA.

    States requiring federal approval: New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, South Dakota, California, Alaska. Texas passed a voter ID law. Under the VRA, the state was required to submit the law to DOor the DC federal district court for approval. The court blocked the law, citing racial impact.

    Under the VRA, the DOJ blocked South Carolina's voter ID law, saying it discriminates against minority voters. The DC federal district court later precleared the law because the state agreed that an ID was not required for voting.

    South Carolina passed a voter ID law intended to keep more than 180,000 African Americans  from casting a ballot.

  • The United States Supreme Court declared in Shelby v. Holder that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional

  • Voting Rights Advancement Act passes the House of Representatives on Dec. 6th. This bill establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices in these areas may take effect. (Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.) The bill was received by the U. S. Senate on Dec 9th, was read twice and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee


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