Timeline of voting rights in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a timeline of voting rights in the United States. The timeline highlights milestones when groups of people in the United States gained voting rights, and also documents aspects of disenfranchisement in the country.


1770s 1780s 1790s 1800s 1830s 1840s 1850s 1860s 1870s 1880s 1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1980s
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18th century[edit]



  • The Constitution of the United States grants the states the power to set voting requirements. Generally, states limited this right to property-owning or tax-paying white males (about 6% of the population).[1] However, some states allowed also Black males to vote, and New Jersey also included unmarried and widowed women, regardless of color. Since married women were not allowed to own property, they could not meet the property qualifications.[2]
  • Georgia removes property requirement for voting.[3]



  • The Naturalization Act of 1790 allows free white persons born outside of the United States to become citizens. However, due to the Constitution granting the states the power to set voting requirements, this Act (and its successor Naturalization Act of 1795) did not automatically grant the right to vote.[4]


  • Vermont is admitted as a new state, giving the vote to men regardless of color or property ownership.[5]


  • New Hampshire removes property ownership as requirement to vote.[6]
  • Kentucky is admitted as a new state, giving the vote to free men regardless of color or property ownership. However, most Blacks in Kentucky may not vote because they are enslaved and after a short time, the vote is taken away also from free Blacks.[5]
  • Delaware removes property ownership as requirement to vote, continues to impose need to pay taxes to vote.[3]


  • Georgia removes tax requirement for voting.[3]

19th century[edit]



  • Voting rights are taken away from free black males and from all women in New Jersey.[2]


  • In the 1820 election, there were 108,359 ballots cast. Most older states with property restrictions dropped them by the mid-1820s, except for Rhode Island, Virginia and North Carolina. No new states had property qualifications although three had adopted tax-paying qualifications – Ohio, Louisiana, and Mississippi, of which only in Louisiana were these significant and long lasting.[7]


  • In 1821, the state of New York held a constitutional convention which removed property qualifications for white male voters, but introduced for "persons of colour" a new requirement to own $250 worth of property, "over and above all debts," in order to vote. White male voters were instead required to pay a tax, but this rule was abolished in an amendment of 1826. Requirements for persons of color were not affected by this amendment.[8] Due to the state's policy of gradual emancipation, slavery persisted until 1827, but until then the proportion of African Americans who were free (and thus potential voters) steadily increased. Native Americans still controlled large territories in Upstate New York, and though typically excluded from citizenship altogether, the property requirement applied to any voter who was not white.


  • The 1828 presidential election was the first in which non-property-holding white males could vote in the vast majority of states. By the end of the 1820s, attitudes and state laws had shifted in favor of universal white male suffrage.[9]
  • Maryland passes a law to allow Jews to vote.[10] Maryland was the last state to remove religious restrictions for voting.[11]



  • Voting rights are taken away from free black males in Pennsylvania.[12]
  • Kentucky women are allowed to vote in school elections.[13]


Thomas Wilson Dorr of Rhode Island




  • Rhode Island drafts a new constitution giving any free man the right to vote.[15]






  • Tax-paying qualifications remained in five states in 1860 – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware and North Carolina. They survived in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island until the 20th century.[16] In addition, many poor whites were later disenfranchised.[17][18]



  • Citizenship is guaranteed to all male persons born or naturalized in the United States by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, setting the stage for future expansions to voting rights.
  • November 3: The right of African American men to vote in Iowa is approved through a voter referendum.[20]





  • Minor v. Happersett goes to the Supreme Court, where it is decided that suffrage is not a right of citizenship and women do not necessarily have the right to vote.[23]






  • Citizenship is granted to Native Americans who are willing to disassociate themselves from their tribe by the Dawes Act, making those males technically eligible to vote.
  • Women in Washington lose the right to vote.[25]
  • Women in Utah lose the right to vote under the Edmunds–Tucker Act.[26]
  • Kansas women earn the right to vote in municipal elections.[21]
  • Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, and South Dakota grant partial suffrage to women.[13]






  • The right to vote in the territory of Hawaii is restricted to English and Hawaiian speaking men and the territory is not allowed to make its own suffrage legislation.[30]

20th century[edit]



  • Alabama enacts a cumulative poll tax in their state constitution. This means that all taxes that should have been paid since an eligible voter turned 21 must be paid before voting.[citation needed]



Suffragists in parade


  • Washington state restores women's right to vote through the state constitution.[25]



  • Women in Arizona and Kansas earn the right to vote.[26]
  • Women in Oregon earn the right to vote.[13]









  • All Native Americans are granted citizenship and the right to vote through the Indian Citizenship Act, regardless of tribal affiliation. By this point, approximately two thirds of Native Americans were already citizens.[36][37] Notwithstanding, some western states continued to bar Native Americans from voting until 1948.[38] South Dakota refused to follow the law.[39]




  • Nixon v. Herndon is heard by the Supreme Court, which rules that white primary laws are unconstitutional.[35]



  • Nixon v. Condon is heard by the Supreme Court which strikes down a Texas law to allow political parties to choose who can vote in their primary elections.[35]



  • Grovey v. Townsend decides that the Democratic Party, as private organization, can determine who is allowed to join and therefore vote in the primaries.[35]





  • The decision in Grovey v. Townsend is overturned by the case, Smith v. Allwright heard before the Supreme Court. It is decided that primary elections are an "integral component of the electoral process" and discrimination in participation in the primaries was prohibited.[35]






  • Native Americans living on reservations earn the right to vote in Maine.[43][44]


  • The provision in the North Dakota state constitution that required Native Americans to renounce their tribal affiliations two years before an election is removed.[45]


  • Alaska adopts a more lenient literacy test.[46]


Marchers with signs at the March on Washington





  • Protection of voter registration and voting for racial minorities, later applied to language minorities, is established by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[11] This has also been applied to correcting discriminatory election systems and districting.
  • In Harman v. Forssenius the Supreme Court ruled that poll taxes or "equivalent or milder substitutes" cannot be imposed on voters.[citation needed]


  • Tax payment and wealth requirements for voting in state elections are prohibited by the Supreme Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections.[24] The poll tax would remain on the books, unenforceable, until 2020.


Voting in the 1972 Presidential Primary Election in Birmingham, Alabama


  • Alaska ends the use of literacy tests.[46]
  • Native Americans who live on reservations in Colorado are first allowed to vote in the state.[52]




  • Washington, D.C. local elections, such as Mayor and Councilmen, restored after a 100-year gap in Georgetown, and a 190-year gap in the wider city, ending Congress's policy of local election disfranchisement started in 1801 in this former portion of Maryland—see: D.C. Home rule.






  • Texas repeals the lifelong prohibition against voters with felony convictions and institutes a five year waiting period after completing a sentence to vote.[60]


  • Texas changes the five year waiting period to two years for people with felony convictions.[60]





  • Texas ends the two year waiting period for people with felony convictions to restore voting rights.[57]


  • People in Utah with a felony conviction are prohibited from voting while serving their sentence. People with a felony conviction may vote after release from prison, if they were convicted in Utah. If they were convicted out of state, their rights are not restored due to the wording of the law.[60]

21st century[edit]




  • New Mexico ends lifetime disenfranchisement for people with a felony conviction.[57]
  • Connecticut restores the rights of people serving felony probation.[60]


  • Iowa restores the voting rights of felons who completed their prison sentences.[57]
  • Nebraska ends lifetime disenfranchisement of people with felonies but adds a five-year waiting period.[60]


  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was extended for the fourth time by President George W. Bush, being the second extension of 25 years.[62]
  • Utah changes wording of their law and restores voting rights to all people who have completed their prison sentence for a felony.[60]
  • Rhode Island restores voting rights for people serving probation or parole for felonies.[57]


  • Florida restores voting rights for most non-violent people with felony convictions.[57]


  • Washington restores a person's right to vote if they have completed their sentences for a felony conviction.[63]


Voting on election day in Des Moines, Iowa, 2010


  • Voting rights in New Jersey are restored to individuals serving probation and parole for felonies.[57]


  • Florida changes their felony voting rules; felons must wait five years after sentencing and apply for their right to vote again.[57]
  • Iowa reverses their rule allowing felons who have completed their sentences to vote.[57]
  • Texas passes one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, but it is blocked by the courts.[29]


  • Supreme Court ruled in the 5–4 Shelby County v. Holder decision that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) stated that if states or local governments want to change their voting laws, they must appeal to the Attorney General.[64]
  • Delaware waives the five-year waiting period for voters with a felony conviction.[63]
  • North Dakota passes House Bill 1332 which was targeted at restricting Native American voters. Any voter without a permanent address is no longer eligible to vote.[65]


  • California allows prisoners in county jail to vote.[63]
  • Maryland restores voting rights to felons after they have served their term in prison.[63]


  • Alabama publishes a list of crimes that can lead to disqualification of the right to vote.[63]
  • Wyoming restores the voting rights of non-violent felons.[63]


  • The residential address law in North Dakota is held up by the United States Supreme Court.[27]
  • Florida voting rights for people with a felony conviction is restored with some additional requirements needed in some cases.[63]
  • People with a felony conviction in Louisiana who have not been incarcerated for five years (inclusive of probation or parole) are able to vote.[57]
  • New York allows parolees to vote.[63]


  • People convicted of a felony may vote in Nevada after release from prison.[63]
  • Citizens on parole may vote in Colorado.[63]
  • People convicted of a felony may vote in Oklahoma after serving their full sentence, including parole and other types of probation.[63]



  • California restores voting rights to citizens serving parole.[63]
  • Washington, D.C. passes a law to allow incarcerated felons to vote.[63]
  • People with a felony conviction have their right to vote in Iowa restored with some restrictions and each potential voter must have completed their sentence.[63]
  • People with a felony conviction in New Jersey can vote after release from prison; citizens on parole or probation can also vote.[63]
  • North Dakota reaches an agreement with the Spirit Lake Nation and the Standing Rock Sioux to recognize tribal address as valid for voting purposes.[66]


  • The Supreme Court's ruling on Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee has broad removals on the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act.[67][68]
  • Texas enacts sweeping legislation that further tightens state election laws and constrains local control of elections by limiting counties’ ability to expand voting options.[69]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b Klinghoffer, Judith Apter; Elkis, Lois (1992). "'The Petticoat Electors': Women's Suffrage in New Jersey, 1776-1807". Journal of the Early Republic. 12 (2): 159–193. doi:10.2307/3124150. JSTOR 3124150.
  3. ^ a b c Engerman & Sokoloff 2005, p. 35.
  4. ^ "naturalization laws 1790-1795". www.indiana.edu. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  5. ^ a b Engerman & Sokoloff 2005, p. 28, 35.
  6. ^ Engerman & Sokoloff 2005, p. 11-12.
  7. ^ Engerman & Sokoloff 2005, p. 8-9.
  8. ^ "The Second Constitution of New York, 1821" (PDF). Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  9. ^ Engerman & Sokoloff 2005, p. 14"Property- or tax-based qualifications were most strongly entrenched in the original thirteen states, and dramatic political battles took place at a series of prominent state constitutional conventions held during the late 1810s and 1820s."
  10. ^ Bichefsky, Raya. "LibGuides: Voting Resources: Voting in the United States: A Timeline". Pence Law Library Guides. Retrieved 2021-01-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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External links[edit]