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5 Voting Moments That Changed the Course of US History

Wikimedia Commons/NAACP Collection

People in countries around the world face blockages to voting, and the US is still working on eliminating barriers to make voting more accessible. However, legislation for voting rights throughout US history has overcome hurdles of racism, sexism, and some outright bizarre voting requirements.

Here is a look at some of the monumental moments and legislative battles that have led to more equal voting rights throughout the country. Each deserves a minute to remember as the US heads into the 2016 presidential election.

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The Cruelty of the Three-Fifths Compromise

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Prior to the 15th Amendment, African-American men were not counted as equal to white men when it came to deciding how they were represented in the government. Technically coined “all other persons,” the three-fifths compromise crept up in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution and created a system where black lives were counted as three-fifths of a person. This skewed representation, voting, and taxes throughout the country. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, trumped the three-fifths compromise and granted African-American men equal representation.

A Woman’s Best Friend — the 19th Amendment  

history-684384_640.jpgImage: pixabay/dweedon1

In 2016, America is still four years from celebrating the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote. The 19th Amendment granted women over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1920. The amendment came after years of people “fighting like hell” for women’s right to vote. Long-time suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst led the way in the UK, while Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, and Alice Stone Blackwell (daughter of Lucy Stone) all made waves in the U.S. Make sure you vote this year, and make these ladies proud.

The Case of Native American Voting Rights in Arizona

ARIZONA-NAVAJO_NATION_-_NARA_-_544404.jpgImage: Wikimedia Commons/Terry Eiler

Though Native American were granted citizenship rights in 1924, voting rights were granted by states. In some states, such as Arizona and New Mexico, Native Americans were still barred from voting. It wasn’t until 1948 that the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the claim Native Americans were “wards of the government” and had no right to vote in the state was ridiculous. “It has ever been one of the great responsibilities of supreme courts to protect the civil rights of the American people of whatever race or nationality, against encroachment,” said Judge Levi Udall before granting Native Americans the right to vote in Arizona. New Mexico followed suit that same year thanks to Miguel Trujillo pressing the matter in court, too. However, some Native Americans living on reservations still face obstacles to voting when their address are deemed “too vague.”

‘No One Too Poor to Vote,’ Thanks to the 24th Amendment

PollTaxRecieptJefferson1917.JPGA receipt from a poll tax costing $1 in 1917, equates to over $20 today.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/State of Louisiana, Parish of Jefferson

Prior to the 24th Amendment, some states placed a tax in order for people to vote in federal elections. While every voter had to pay, the policy was often incredibly discriminatory against black, Hispanic, Native-Americans, and anyone facing poverty. In 1964, the 24th Amendment deemed poll taxes unconstitutional and voting no longer a luxury but a right for men and women over the age of 21.  

“There can now be noone too poor to vote. There is no longer a tax on his rights. The only enemy to voting that we face today is indifference. Too many of our citizens treat casually what other people in other lands are ready to die for,” said Lyndon B. Johnson.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_July_2,_1964.jpgImage: Wikimedia: By Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office

Though the US already had passed the 15th and 19th amendments allowing equal voting rights for all, some states imposed voting taxes (Virginia until 1966) and literacy tests to continue to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, made taxing poll booths, literacy tests and other barriers such as discrimination and violence that African-Americans were still facing in order to gain equal voting rights illegal.

One example, Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the act into place, recalled was that black voters were forced to “recite the entire Constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws.”

Today, the act includes and stands to protect non-English speakers in their right to vote.

Party in the USA — 26th Amendment

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Ah to be young, wild, and free — unless you’re 18, being drafted for the Vietnam War and can’t cast a ballot. In 1971, the 26th Amendment changed voting age from 21 to 18 across the country. So for some of you younger, virgin voters, this amendment is the reason you’re able to partake in this year’s presidential election. Fun fact: in just 3 months, this was the quickest amendment to ever be ratified by Congress.


Each of these moments in history stand as watershed markers in voting rights history. There are still barriers to voting which can add complications for people from all demographics, primarily minorities and the elderly.

What changes to make voting easier do you want to see? Let us know when you #showup to vote!