Politics on Point: Who can vote?

[Nick] Voting is often considered our most important right as US citizens, but exactly who gets that right has changed quite a bit through the years.

When we elected our first Congress, the only citizens who could vote were free white men who were 21 years or older and owned land. That left out a majority of the people in the United States. In fact, in some states, less than 1% of the total population actually cast ballots.

Nearly 100 years later, after the Civil War ended slavery in America, the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution. It says federal and state governments cannot deny anyone the right to vote based on their race, skin color, or having been a slave.

While this should've opened the polls to black voters, many southern states passed restrictive voting laws that kept them from voting. It wasn't until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, that all African-Americans could exercise their right to vote.

The next big amendment to open up the polls was the 19th. Although women had been an important force in the history of this country, they had to fight for generations to earn the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragettes held protests, circulated petitions, and lobbied Congress to give women the vote. Finally, in 1919, the 19th Amendment was approved by Congress, and women cast their ballots for the first time in the election of President Warren G. Harding in 1920.

One of the last hurdles for determining who could vote was the age limit, that had been set at 21 years old way back in 1789. But when the Vietnam War started, and 18-year-olds were drafted to fight, many argued that they too should be able to vote. In 1971, the states agreed to lower the limit to 18 years by ratifying the 26th Amendment.

Even today, some argue that voter ID laws, which require every voter to present a government-issued ID, are just another way to leave some people out of our democratic process. Voting is not something to be taken lightly. It's a right that many of our forefathers and foremothers have fought for.

Instructional Links

Website: Rock the Vote Oho


Website: PBS, We the Voters


Website: PBS Kids, You Choose


Website Article: Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government, The What and Who of Elections


Lesson Plan: Foundations of Democracy, How Should We Choose People for Positions of Authority?


Website Article: Congress for Kids, Democracy


Encyclopedia Article: World Book Kids, Taiwan


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