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Voting and Civic Engagement

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A Brief History of Voting in America

This timeline shows milestones of voting laws in U.S. history. This timeline also offers information about the U.S. government denying and granting citizenship to groups of U.S. residents. Citizenship is a requirement of voting in the United States.

1789: The U.S. constitution did not establish any specific voting rights, instead states were given the power to regulate voting laws. As a result, most states limited voting to white male landowners.

Representatives were elected by the people, Senators were selected by state legislatures, and the President was elected by state legislature appointed electors.

1790: 1790 Naturalization Law established that only “free white” immigrants can become citizens of the United States.

1848: By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, citizenship is granted to Mexicans living in U.S. territories but does not grant voting rights.

1856: All white men can vote, the requirement for property ownership was eliminated. This was a state by state change. North Carolina was the last state to remove this requirement in 1856.

1866: Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States, regardless of color or previous enslavement. This act allowed all citizens of the U.S. equal protection under the law. This act excluded the rights of citizenship to indigenous people who did not pay taxes.

1868: The 14th Amendment extends citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” The 14th Amendment enshrined the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as part of the Constitution, protecting it from being overturned by the Supreme Court. The 14th Amendment secured citizenship for freed slaves and black folks but did not include rights of political participation, including voting.

1870: The 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote -- “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Some Suffragists opposed the 15th Amendment because it did not extend voting rights to women. 

1876: The Supreme Court ruled Native Americans are not citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment, even those that are "tax paying." The decision was offered in Elk v. Wilkins.

1882: Chinese Exclusion Act denies people of Chinese ancestry from naturalizing as American citizens.

1887: The Dawes Act grants citizenship to Native Americans who disassociate from their Nations.

1890: Indian Naturalization Act required some indigenous peoples to apply for U.S. citizenship. In spite of being granted citizenship, indigenous peoples were still denied the right to vote until 1924.

1890: Wyoming becomes a state and the first allowing women the right to vote. Wyoming originally granted women the right to vote in 1873, when it was still a territory. Women's right to vote was not extended to federal elections, only state and local elections. Between 1890 and 1920, several other states extended suffrage to women.

1913: The 17th Amendment gives the power of selecting Senators to the (male) people. Prior to the 17th Amendment Senators were selected by state legislatures.

1920: The 19th Amendment gives women the right to vote.

1922: Supreme Court rules that people of Japanese heritage are ineligible to become naturalized citizens. The same is ruled for Asian Indians in 1923.

1924: Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act, grants indigenous peoples citizenship regardless of nation affiliation. Previously, indigenous peoples were expect to renounce their tribal affiliations to gain U.S. citizenship.

1943: The Magnuson Act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, giving. Chinese immigrants citizenship and the right to vote.

1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, or the McCarran-Walter Act, granted all Asian-Americans the right to citizenship and to vote. This act also granted citizenship to residents of U.S. territories though not the right to vote in federal elections. 

1961: The 23rd Amendment gives residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote for president, but not Congressional representation.

1965: Voting Rights Act is passed. 

1971: The 26th Amendment made the minimum voting age 18, previously the minimum voting age was 21.

1986: The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act granted U.S. Military, Uniformed Services, Merchant Marines, and other U.S. citizens living abroad right to vote.

1993: National Voter Registration Act passes making registering to vote at DMVs and other public assistance center easier.

2002: The Help America Vote Act requires voter ID for all new voters in federal elections who registered by mail and who did not provide a driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number that was matched against government records. Many states have voter ID requirements. The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides state by state voter ID laws and requirements.

2013: The Supreme Court overturns Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, no longer requiring states and local governments to notify the Attorney General of changes to local voting laws.


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