The issue of voting rights in the United States has been contentious throughout the country’s history. Eligibility to vote in the U.S. is determined by both federal and state law. Currently, only citizens can vote in U.S. elections (although this has not always been the case). Who is (or who can become) a citizen is governed on a national basis by federal law. In the absence of a federal law or constitutional amendment, each state is given considerable discretion to establish qualifications for suffrage and candidacy within its own jurisdiction.
When the country was founded, in most states, only white men with real property (land) or sufficient wealth for taxation were permitted to vote. Freed African Americans could vote in four states. Unpropertied white men, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied the franchise. At the time of the American Civil War, most white men were allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and even religious tests were used in various places, and most white women, people of color, and Native Americans still could not vote.
The United States Constitution, in Article VI, section 3, states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The Constitution, however, leaves the determination of voting qualifications to the individual states. Over time, the federal role in elections has increased through amendments to the Constitution and enacted legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At least four of the fifteen post-Civil War constitutional amendments were ratified specifically to extend voting rights to different groups of citizens. These extensions state that voting rights cannot be denied or abridged based on the following:
- Birth – “All persons born or naturalized” “are citizens” of the U.S. and the U.S. State where they reside (14th Amendment, 1868)
- “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude” – (15th Amendment, 1870)
- “On account of sex” – (19th Amendment, 1920)
- In Washington, D.C., presidential elections after 164 year suspension by U.S. Congress (23rd Amendment, 1961)
- (For federal elections) “By reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax” – (24th Amendment, 1964)
- (For state elections) Taxes – (Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966))
- “Who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age” (26th Amendment, 1971).
In addition, the 17th Amendment provided for the direct election of United States Senators.
The “right to vote” is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution except in the above referenced amendments, and only in reference to the fact that the franchise cannot be denied or abridged based solely on the aforementioned qualifications. In other words, the “right to vote” is perhaps better understood, in layman’s terms, as only prohibiting certain forms of legal discrimination in establishing qualifications for suffrage. States may deny the “right to vote” for other reasons.
For example, many states require eligible citizens to register to vote a set number of days prior to the election in order to vote. More controversial restrictions include those laws that prohibit convicted felons from voting or, as seen in Bush v. Gore, disputes as to what rules should apply in counting or recounting ballots 
A state may choose to fill an office by means other than an election. For example, upon death or resignation of a legislator, the state may allow the affiliated political party to choose a replacement to hold office until the next scheduled election. Such an appointment is often affirmed by the governor.
We would love to hear from you! Please fill out this form and we will get in touch with you shortly.
Leave a Reply