Elections & Voting
One of the most important rights of American citizens is the franchise — the
right to vote. Originally under the Constitution, only white male citizens
over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. This shameful injustice has been
corrected and voting rights have been extended several times over the course of
our history. Today, citizens over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right
to vote, regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation.
However, in every state except North Dakota, citizens must register to vote, and
laws regarding the registration process vary by state.
The path to full voting rights for all American citizens was long and often challenging.
The franchise was first extended to African Americans under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Amendments to the Constitution, passed during the Reconstruction period after the
Civil War. These guaranteed that all male citizens, regardless of their race,
would receive equal treatment under the law and not be deprived of their rights
without due process. The Fifteenth Amendment is specifically dedicated to
protecting the right of all citizens to vote, regardless of their race.
For practical purposes, this was not the end of the voting rights struggle for African
Americans. Because of widespread discrimination in some states, including
the use of poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests, African Americans
were not assured full voting rights until President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed
the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was
passed. Prior to that, women had only been able to vote in select states.
Federal elections occur every two years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday
in November. Every member of the House of Representatives and about one-third
of the Senate is up for reelection in any given election year. A presidential
election is held every fourth year.
Federal elections are administered by state and local governments, although the
specifics of how elections are conducted differ between the states. The Constitution
and laws of the United States grant the states wide latitude in how they administer