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The original United States Constitution afforded only white male property owners the right to vote. At the time, that meant that only a small fraction of the people living in the United States were allowed to vote for members of Congress or the President and Vice President. Since the original Constitution was signed, however, a number of voting amendments to the Constitution have effectively given the right to vote to other residents of the country. The 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th voting Amendments have addressed the age requirements to vote, as well as establishing that voting rights may not be denied based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude nor on sex or failure to pay poll taxes.
The first of the voting amendments to be proposed, and the third reconstruction amendment, was the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Introduced in Congress in February of 1869, the Amendment was ratified one year later in February of 1870 after much controversy. Section One of the 15th Amendment reads as follows: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The 15th Amendment gave African-Americans, including former slaves, the right to vote which was previously denied to them.
It took the United States another fifty years to recognize the rights of another large segment of the population to vote. The women's suffrage movement campaigned fiercely in the early part of the 20th century for the right of women to vote. Eventually, in August of 1920, the second of the voting amendments was ratified giving women the right to vote. The amendment was originally introduced in Congress back in 1878; however, it wasn't until 41 years later that the amendment was submitted to the states for ratification. According to the 19th Amendment, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
Although the 15th Amendment gave African-Americans the right to vote, many southern states attempted to get around the constitutional right to vote by imposing a poll tax as a prerequisite. Most African-Americans were unable to afford the poll tax and, therefore, were effectively prevented from voting. In 1962, the third of the voting amendments was introduced to Congress as a response to the poll tax issue. The 24th Amendment declares: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."
The last of the voting amendments was ratified in 1971 as the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the ratification of the 26th Amendment, many states required voters to be 21 years of age before being allowed to vote. Although the issue had been discussed for many years, the Vietnam War brought the voting age issue into the national spotlight. Many felt that it was unfair to draft an 18 year-old and send him off to fight in the war without allowing him the right to vote and influence decisions regarding the war. As such, the 26th Amendment holds: "The right of citizens of the United States, 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."
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