Voting in America

Current Events, Exploring HeinOnline, Statutes at Large, U.S. Federal Legislative History, World Constitutions Illustrated
Shannon Sabo

Four debates down, one election to go! Televisions, computers, and mobile devices in the United States have been taken over by the presidential election for more than a year. Back in June, this blog post encouraged readers to step away from the current political climate to study the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Take another break and check out a few key historical amendments and public laws related to voting in the United States.

Important Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

HeinOnline's World Constitutions Illustrated is an excellent resource for all types of constitutional research. It contains constitutions and constitutional histories of all countries of the world, including the United States Constitution. Use the hierarchical format to select the most recent material:

From there, use the Constitution's table of contents to find the full text of the Amendments:

  • The Fifteenth Amendment, adopted in 1870, prohibits federal and state governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It's important to note that Black voters continued to face obstacles such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and violent intimidation despite the adoption of this amendment.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified on August 18, 1920, prohibits any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.
  • The Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified on January 23, 1964, prohibits Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll or any other type of tax. 
  • The Twenty-sixth Amendment changed the voting age for all elections to 18. The movement to lower the voting age from 21 occurred in part because of student activism and Vietnam War protests. This amendment was ratified on July 1, 1971, and in record time after submission to the states.
Major Public Laws Impacting Voting Rights in the United States

The civil rights movement forced the federal government to address minorities' voting rights. A series of acts were passed:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1957: This Act authorized the U.S. Attorney General to issue injunctions on behalf of those deprived of their Fifteenth Amendment rights.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1960: This Act allowed federal courts to appoint referees to register voters in jurisdictions discriminating against racial minorities.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: In response to the prevalence of discrimination against racial minorities in government services and public accommodations, this Act was passed. It included some protections of voting rights, among other provisions.

Due to loopholes in prior legislation, combined with difficulty encountered by the government as it attempted to pursue litigation in matters of discrimination, the African-American voter registration rate improved only marginally. President Lyndon B. Johnson quietly encouraged the creation of a tougher voting rights bill. This, in concurrence with an increase in unrest among civil rights organizations, eventually led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In key provisions of this Act:

  • Racial discrimination was officially banned in voting nationwide
  • Literacy tests were banned nationwide
  • Certain jurisdictions were required to clear proposed changes in voting or election procedures with the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Certain jurisdictions were required to provide assistance in languages other than English to voters not literate or fluent in English
  • The U.S. Attorney General was given the power to send federal examiners and observers to monitor elections

A compiled legislative history on this Act is available here.

Additional Acts

To research scholarship on this vital topic, both current and historical, enter the Law Journal Library and selected Advanced Search. Use the fields to look for voting in the Article Title and "United States" in Country. Sort search results by Volume Date: (Newest First). The relevance can be enhanced by using the facets on the left side of the screen to select specific Subjects, such as Civil Rights or Constitutional Law.

The current election will likely become one of the most important elections in history. For help researching politics, election law, or other topics in HeinOnline, contact our dedicated support team at (800) 277-6995, email us, or chat with us!

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