Where We’ve Been: The Epic Struggle to Vote & Be Counted

“Historians are fond of saying that the past doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes.
To understand the present, we have to understand how we got here.”
– Heather Cox Richardson


A companion to our Quiz, Timeline: Voting Rights offers a bird’s-eye view of our long national struggle for equal voting rights.  

By understanding tour ancestors’s struggle to win the right to vote, we can better understand and support the struggle of others to secure that precious right. 

As our Timeline highlights, this ageless struggle is a see-saw of laudatory ups and discriminatory downs: 

  • In the beginning, eligible voters constituted a mere 6% of the population. To vote meant to be White, male, a land owner and at least 21 years old.
  • Let Timeline: Voting Rights inspire you to support voting rights reform, an essential first step toward a more perfect Nation. 
  • But be clear-eyed: The unimpeded right to vote is hard-won, our remarkable democratic Republic is always a work-in-progress.

Value this understanding. Support the many who labor daily to protect and defend the unimpeded right to vote.


“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know” about our history, Biden said. “We have to learn what we should know.  We should know about our country.  We should know everything: the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation.  That’s what great nations do, and we are a great nation.”

– President Joe Biden


Voter suppression is not “campaign tactics.” It is “the illegal and immoral deprivation of constitutional rights.”

– Marc Elias, election lawyer


Timeline: Voting Rights



In the beginning . . .   


On June 7, 1776, and acting under the instruction of the Virginia Convention, Richard Henry Lee  introduces a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.”  
  On June 11, 1776, in response to the Lee Resolution, the Second Continental Congress appoints three committees . One of these committees, created to determine the form of a confederation of the colonies, is composed of one representative from each colony with John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, as the principal writer.

The Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It was engrossed on parchment and on August 2, 1776, delegates began signing it.


After considerable debate and alteration, the Articles of Confederation are adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. 

 1781 The Confederation is conditioned on ratification by all 13 states of the proposed Articles of Confederation. Because of disputes over representation, voting, and the western lands claimed by some states, ratification is delayed until ratification by Maryland on March 1, 1781, and the Congress of the Confederation comes into being.
  The Articles of Confederation serve as the United States’ first constitution, and is in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present day Constitution goes into effect.
The Articles of Confederation leaves to the states the power to decide who gets to vote.
1787 A Federal Convention is convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government.


The Constitution is drafted in secret by delegates to the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, is signed on September 17, 1787, establishing the government of the United States, and goes into effect in 1789.

All through the summer of 1787, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected—directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.For more history and background on the Constitution’s creation, read A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives’ new Charters of Freedom site.


Who gets to vote? . . . Part I (1788-1868)   
Like the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution leaves to the states the power to decide who gets to vote.
When the Constitution is ratified in 1788, states set laws that generally favor Protestant Christian me over the age of 21 who meet property requirements (and who comprised approximately.6% of the population).
1790 Enslaved men and women are denied the right to vote I all 13 states.

Free women are denied the right to vote in 12 of 13 states.

Free men of color are denied the right to vote in 3 of 13 states.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 only allows “free white citizens of good character” to become naturalized citizens.
1790-1820 Four states change their laws, taking the right to vote away from men of color.

Massachusetts changes its laws, taking the right to vote away from most Native American men.

New Jersey changes its laws, taking  the right to vote away from women.

1821-1830 States change their laws, expanding the right to vote of white men.

In 1828, Maryland is the last state to stop denying white men the right to vote based on their religion.

In all states white, male citizens can vote if they meet property requirements and haven’t been convicted of certain crimes.

1831-1844 Three more states change their laws, taking the right to vote away from Black and Native American men. 
1845-1864 States expand voting rights for white men. In 1856, North Carolina is the last state to stop denying white men the right to vote based on a  property requirement.

New York votes to keep property restrictions in place for Black voters.

1848 The federal government expands voting rights for some Mexican Americans living in some Southwestern states and territories.

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago ends the Mexican War. Despite the treaty, the right to vote is still based on race. 

Abolitionists and pro-women’s suffrage groups first meet and organize in Seneca Falls, the birth of the women’s suffrage movement.
1862 Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation
1868 The 14th Amendment grants African Americans citizenship, but not the right to vote.

Representative John Bingham – the principal author of the Fourteenth Amendment – called the right to vote the source of all institutions of democratic government.

1868 –


Southern and other states impose literacy, good character and voting taxes to prevent African Americans from voting. By 1904, every former Confederate state has also passed a poll tax to deny Black men the right to vote.  While some of these laws are repealed over time, they remained in effect until 1964 in Alabama, Arkansa, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia. 

Who gets to vote? . . . Part II (1868 – 1870)


1868 –


The 15th Amendment is ratified, prohibiting denial of the right to vote based on race.

Black men and Mexican American men have the right to vote in every state. 

Because Native American and Asian Americans don’t have citizenship, they are still denied the right to vote in most states.

Women are still denied the right to vote in every state.


Months after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress enacts the first Ku Klux Klan Act. Among other things, that Act prohibited interference with the newly protected right to vote, and it authorized the United States Attorneys and marshals to bring criminal actions against anyone who violated the Act’s provisions.

And only a few weeks after that, Congress creates the Department of Justice, and President Grant charges it with enforcing the Act and protecting the rights promised by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

Amos Akerman, the first Attorney General President Grant appointed to lead the new Justice Department, zealously sought to protect Black voting rights, directing U.S. Attorneys that it was their “special duty to initiate proceedings against all violators” of the Ku Klux Klan Act. In the next few years, DOJ lawyers successfully prosecuted hundreds of Ku Klux Klan leaders and others. Those efforts helped to secure a brief period of meaningful Black voting rights in some parts of the former Confederacy.


The Supreme Court severely undercuts the department’s enforcement efforts by holding that the First Ku Klux Klan Act exceeded Congress’s power under the Fifteenth Amendment.

But, the federal commitment to protecting Black voting rights wanes as the commitment of the federal government to Reconstruction draws to a close.



Southern and other states find ways to deny the right to vote to Black men (and later to Black women). They impose literacy, good character and voting taxes to prevent African Americans from voting. In 1871, Georgia introduces the first poll tax, requiring citizens to pay to vote. These laws are eventually passed throughout the former Confederacy. By 1904, every former Confederate state has also passed a poll tax to deny Black men the right to vote.  While some of these laws are repealed over time, they remained in effect until 1964 in Alabama, Arkansa, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia. 

Poll taxes target Black voters by including a “grandfather clause” excusing those from the tax whose grandfathers voted, effectively exempting all white men). 


Who gets to vote? . . . Part III (1872 – 1919)


1872 Activists Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women are arrested, and Sojourner Truth is turned away, for trying to vote in the 1872 presidential election.
1872 – 1920 A surge in women’s suffrage activism follows, including marches, lobbying, and more militant methods.
1876 A  federal court rules that Native Americans cannot vote because they are not properly citizens under the 14th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the denial of voting rights to Native America men.
1882 The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its amendments specifically refuse citizenship – and through it , the right to vote, to all Chinese-Americans, no matter their country of origin. 
1886 Congress passes the Dawes Act, which allows Native Americans to gain citizenship if they renounce their tribal citizenship.
1886-1900 Louisiana revises its constitution to include pool taxes and a literacy test, which requires citizens to take a text to vote. The state also implements a grandfather clause to ensure white men aren’t excluded from voting.

The effect of the new constitution? In 1896, the number of registered Black voters in Louisiana was 130,00; in 1904 that number was 1,342.

During the 35 year period after the Civil War, 13 states (of 38) pass laws taking away the vote from people convicted of felonies.


Between 1890 and 1908, every southern state enacts a new constitution or amended its constitution to exclude Black voters or significantly impede their participation. The courts did not stand in the way, rejecting every constitutional challenge.

And for the next half-century, no branch of the federal government does much to protect voting rights.

1890 Congress creates a process for Native Americans to apply for naturalization.
1890 – Wyoming and 18 other states, mostly Western and newly admitted to the Union, grant suffrage to women (apparently as an inducement to attract women to move there).
1896 Louisiana passes “grandfather clauses” to keep former slaves and their descendants from voting. As a result, registered black voters drops from 44.8% in 1896 to 4.0% four years later. Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia follow Louisiana’s lead by enacting their own grandfather clauses.
1901-1919 Western territories and states deny voting rights to people who do not speak English.  

They (along with Michigan and New York) expand voting rights for women.


Who gets to vote? . . . Part IV (1917 – 1957)


1917-1919 Native Americans and other racial minority groups who had served in World War I (1914-1918) are granted citizenship and the right to vote.
1920 The 19th Amendment is ratified, prohibiting states from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex.  Women now have the right to vote.
1920 -1965 Because the federal government often denied citizenship to Native American and Asian women, they are still denied the right to vote.
1920 -1965 Black and Mexican-American women now have the right to vote but Jim Crow laws imposing poll taxes or literacy test prevent them from exercising that right in many states. 
1921-1940 Jim Crow laws, reinforced with violence against registering or encouraging voting, severely limit voter registration of Black Americans. 

In the South, 97% of eligible Black voters are not registered to vote in 1940.

1924 – 1965 The Indian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to Native Americans born in the United States.

Many states, however, continue to deny Native Americans the right to vote by adopting discriminatory practices, such as banning Native Americans who are enrolled in a tribe or living on a reservation, as well as imposing poll taxes and literacy tests.

1925 The federal government grants voting rights to Filipino men who served for three years in World War 1 (1914-1918), and gradually begins to naturalize more Asian immigrants.
1940 Only 3% of eligible African Americans in the South are registered to vote. Jim Crow laws like literacy tests and poll taxes were meant to keep African Americans from voting.
1952 The McCarran-Walter Act lifts all restrictions on Asian immigrants becoming naturalized citizens, providing Asian-Americans a pathway to citizenship and the right to vote.
1954 In 1954, while serving as Senate minority leader, Lyndon Johnson refuses to sign the Southern Manifesto, which declared the Southern congressional bloc’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board ruling.



 In the late 1950s the Justice Department renews its efforts to protect the right to vote, and the Supreme Court reestablished judicial oversight of the political process.

In 1957, Congress enacts its first major civil rights statute since Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 – based on a legislative proposal first drafted by the Department of Justice – enabled the creation of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and authorized the Attorney General to sue to enjoin voter intimidation or racially-discriminatory denials of the right to vote.

The 1957 bill created the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and a federal Commission on Civil Rights tasked with investigating racial discrimination.

The new law also nominally permitted federal prosecutors to request court injunctions against interference with voting rights. This protection, however, was saddled with a burdensome compromise—an amendment that ensured a jury trial for all individuals accused of violating federal voting rights protections. Given that disenfranchisement measures effectively barred Black Americans from serving on juries across the South, jury trials ensured that white registrars would not be convicted of violating the new law.

Martin Luther King Jr., one of the only civil rights leaders to support the bill, advises Vice President Nixon that “the full effect of the civil rights bill will depend in large degree upon the program of a sustained mass movement on the part of Negroes.”

By the early 1960s, events had borne King’s prediction out, as civil rights activists, with the support of sympathetic forces in the DOJ, mountedincreasingly visible challenges to the blatant denial of voting rights. These efforts, in turn, laid the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act that Johnson would sign as president in 1965.


The first case against a county registrar for violating the Act, United States v. Lynd, was brought by John Doar, an attorney who served in the Civil Rights Division during the Eisenhower Administration.

Who gets to vote? . . . Part V (1959 – 1964)


1959 The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality literacy tests.

By 1963, the Department of Justice has filed 35 suits challenging discrimination or threats against Black registration applicants in individual counties. But, as Attorney General Robert Kennedy said, that was a “painfully slow way of providing what is, after all, [a] fundamental right of citizenship.”

As the Supreme Court later acknowledged in South Carolina v Katzenbach, in this effort the department was seriously hindered by the burden of bringing case-by-case challenges.

During the same period, the department successfully urged the Supreme Court to revisit its prior unwillingness to enforce constitutional and statutory protections of the franchise.


In Gomillion v. Lightfoot in 1960, the Supreme Court invalidated the infamous gerrymander of the City of Tuskegee, Alabama, which had redefined the City’s boundaries to exclude 99% of the City’s Black population without removing a single white voter.

1961 The 23rd Amendment grants residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote for President, but not Congressional representation.

Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam are still denied the vote in federal elections unless they move to the mainland.


By 1963, the Department of Justice has filed 35 suits challenging discrimination or threats against Black registration applicants in individual counties. But, as Attorney General Robert Kennedy said, that was a “painfully slow way of providing what is, after all, [a] fundamental right of citizenship.”

As the Supreme Court later acknowledged in South Carolina v Katzenbach, in this effort the department was seriously hindered by the burden of bringing case-by-case challenges.

During the same period, the department successfully urged the Supreme Court to revisit its prior unwillingness to enforce constitutional and statutory protections of the franchise.


In Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court establishes the “one-person, one-vote” principle, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right of each citizen to have an equally effective voice in the political process.

The legislative branch follows the judiciary, and both followed the Civil Rights Movement that swept the country. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars the unequal application of state voter registration requirements for federal elections

The 24th Amendment is ratified, outlawing poll taxes, employed in Southern states since 1868 to discourage Black Americans from voting.  Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia abolish them.

This makes voting easier for men and women of color throughout the South, but literacy tests and other voter suppression tacts are still common.

1965 More than 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the need for African American voting rights.


Who gets to vote? . . . Part VI (1965 – 2012)

Only 6.3% of African Americans are able to register to vote in the state of Mississippi.

In the wake of Bloody Sunday and based on a record developed in large part by the Civil Rights Division’s litigation, Congress enacts what President Johnson called “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom” – the Voting Rights Act.

Congress passes and President Johnson signs the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965  (“VRA”), outlawing severally racially discriminatory practices that kept many people of color from voting.

In introducing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, President Johnson tells the Congress: “It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote.”

For the first time. Black men and women can exercise their right to vote throughout the South.

This law has an immediate effect.  In Alabama, for example, more than 250,000 new Black voters are registered by the end of 1965.

  The VRA bans literacy tests, which election officials in the South deployed to keep Black Americans – who had disproportionately high rates of illiteracy from centuries of being denied education – from voting.
  Significantly, the VRA directs the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee voter registration efforts in counties where less than half of the African American population is registered.
  Moreover, the VRA requires states and municipalities with a history of discrimination to obtain pre-clearance from the DOJ before implementing any new voting policies.

These states included: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

1965 By the end of 1965, 250,000 new black voters are registered, one third of them by federal examiners.
1970-1975 The Voting Rights is reauthorized and signed by President Nixon in 1970

The Act was reauthorized and signed by President Ford in 1975.

It is expanded to prevent discrimination based on language.

Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hawaiians and Latinx people can exercise their right to vote in every state.

1971 The 26th Amendment is ratified, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, responding to the demands of those old enough to fight in the Vietnam war to have the right to vote.

Barbara Jordan of Houston and Andrew Young of Atlanta become the first African Americans elected to Congress from the South since Reconstruction.



In signing the 1982 reauthorization of the Act, President Reagan states: “The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” And in signing the 2006 reauthorization, President Bush stated that, “[t]he right of ordinary men and women to determine their own . . . future lies at the heart of the American experiment.”

1984 Federal law expands voting rights for people with disabilities.
Due, in part, to the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the number of black elected officials in Georgia grows to 495 in 1990 from just three prior to the VRA.
1993 The National Voter Registration Act is passed, making it easier to register to vote while obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses at DMVs and public assistance centers instead of having to apply by mail.
2000 The U.S. Supreme Court rules against allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for President.

A federal court of appeals in Boston had overruled a decision of the Federal District Court of Puerto Rico – that Puerto Ricans have the right to vote in the 2000 U.S. presidential election by virtue of being American citizens – because Article II of the Constitution requires that the president be elected by electors chosen by the states, not U.S. territories.

The lower court had noted that residents of several U.S. territories (such as Puerto, Guam, and the US Virginia Islands) pay federal taxes and serve in the military at disproportionately higher rates compared to the U.S. population.

2002 The U.S. Senate votes not to expand the right to vote to those convicted of felonies.
Congress passes the Help America Vote Act with goal of streamlining election procedures across the nation.

The law places new mandates on states and localities to replace outdated voting equipment, create statewide voter registration lists, and provide provisional ballots to ensure that eligible voters are not turned away if their names are not on the roll of registered voters.

The law was also makes it easier for people with disabilities to cast private, independent ballots.

 2000-present Voter ID requirements expand across the U.S.

The first was passed in 1950, and in the 50 year following, 14 states adopted laws requesting ID to vote.

Since 200, more than 20 additional states have passed voter ID laws, and at least 10 states have revised or passed new laws requiring – not requesting – ID to vote.

2006 Congress reauthorizes the Voting rights Act by large majorities (the vote was 390 to 33 in the House and unanimous in the Senate).

President George W. Bush signs the bill into law, saying it was “a example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.”

2008 The election of 2008 was a milestone in terms of turnout. The percentage of African-Americans who voted (sixty-five) rivalled the percentage of whites who voted (sixty-six). Penda Hair, the co-director of the Advancement Project, a progressive voting-rights advocacy group, says that this statistic discomfited Republicans. “Conservatives were looking at it and saying, ‘We’ve got to clamp things down,’ ” Hair said. “They’d always tried to suppress the black vote, but it was then that they came up with new schemes.”


2010 to present Since 2010 alone, the Department of Justice has had over 18 Section 5 objections to voting laws in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.
2011 Restrictions to voting passed in South Carolina, Texas and Florida are found to disproportionately impact minority voters.

A record number of restrictions to voting were introduced in state legislatures nationwide, including photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting and restrictions to voter registration. Many of these states have histories of voter discrimination and are covered under the VRA.

States requiring federal approval: New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, South Dakota, California, Alaska.

Restrictions to voting passed in South Carolina, Texas and Florida are found to disproportionately impact minority voters.

Florida passed a law that restricts voter registration and made cuts to early voting. The majority of African Americans in Florida rely on early voting to cast a ballot, and register to vote through community based registration.

“The more we get out to vote, the better opportunities we’ll have”

Photo of and link to a podcast interview with Denese Meteye James, who registered voters in Florida.

Texas passed one of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID laws. Under the VRA, the state was required to submit the law to DOJ or the DC federal district court for approval. The court blocked the law, citing racial impact.

Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law, Citing Racial Impact” links to a New York Times news story.

Photo reads: Must Show ID to Vote

Under the VRA, the DOJ blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law, saying it discriminates against minority voters. The DC federal district court later precleared the law but only because the state agreed that an ID was not required for voting.

Link to Washington Post article “Justice Dept. rejects South Carolina voter ID law, calling it discriminatory.”

South Carolina Photo ID Law blocked

South Carolina passed a restrictive voter ID law that would keep more than 180,000 African Americans from casting a ballot.



Who gets to vote? . . . Part VII (2013 – 2015)


2013 In 2013, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act which had required nine states with a history of suppressing voting rights to obtain advance federal approval in order to change their election laws (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia).

The decision effectively eliminated the preclearance protections of the Voting Rights Act, which had been the  most effective tool of the Department of Justice to protect voting rights over the past half-century.Under the preclearance requirement, DOJ objected to more than one thousand discriminatory voting changes between 1965 and 2006.

  The Court divided along ideological lines as to the central question of  whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.
  In her written dissent, Justice Ginsburg said that “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” and that Congress was the right branch of government to decide whether the law was still needed and where.
  The ACLU represented the NAACP’s Alabama chapter in Shelby v. Holder. In the decision, the Supreme Court crippled one of the most effective protections for the right to vote by rendering ineffective the requirement that certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination get pre-approval for voting changes. States have wasted no time enacting potentially discriminatory laws including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana.

The good news is that we have the chance to fix it now.Congress can pass a new, flexible and forward-looking set of protections that work together to guarantee our right to vote — and it’s not just wishful thinking. Since 2006, Congress extended the key sections of the Voting Rights Act on four occasions in overwhelming, bipartisan votes. Once again, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have come together to work on these critical protections.


Since that opinion, there has been a dramatic rise in legislative efforts that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling:

 On August 11, 2013, North Carolina’s governor signed a voter identification law seen by many as an attempt to suppress the votes of people of color.

After a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina law was struck down by a federal judge who said it targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision”.

 On the same day of the Shelby decision, Texas officials acted to institute a strict voter identification law that previously had been blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of its impact in suppressing the vote of low-income people and racial minorities.

 Officials in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Virginia shortly joined the ranks of those intent on turning back the clock to an earlier time when election laws and practices in many places were marked by blatant discrimination and racism.

  In response to post-Shelby assaults on voting rights:

Voting rights organizations across the country stepped up their work to protect and advance the right to vote and move us closer to the vision of a nation of, by, and for the people.

This work includes litigation to challenge unconstitutional barriers to voting, on-the-ground advocacy to advance pro-voter policies at the local and state levels, and nonpartisan efforts to register, educate and mobilize historically underrepresented populations so they can participate more actively in elections and civic life.

The State Infrastructure Fund begins convening a cohort of nonprofit public interest litigation groups with the aim of streamlining and coordinating the field’s response to a fresh wave of policies to suppress the vote. The collaborative of 12 organizations has played an essential role in pushing back against strict voter identification laws, racial gerrymandering, and other tactics aimed at reducing the voting rights of underrepresented populations.

  A 2018 USAToday analysis found that election officials had closed thousands of polling places, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color, an example of how states and localities have continued to try to suppress the votes of targeted populations.

In 2018, for example, the Georgia Senate passed bills cutting voting hours in Atlanta (where African Americans are 54 percent of the population) and restricting early voting on weekends.

 The Georgia measure was seen by many as a not-so-subtle attempt to target nonpartisan “Souls to the Polls” events organized by black churches to get their parishioners to vote on Sunday after church.

 Both Georgia measures were subsequently defeated in the state Assembly, but the Georgia legislature is in 2021 again considering similar measures.

2014  The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration presents President Obama with a series of recommendations designed to help local and state elections officials improve all voters’ experience in casting their ballots. The Commission concludes unanimously that the “problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable.”



Who gets to vote? . . . Part VIII (2016 – present)


2016-present In the run-up to and following the 2016 election, Trump falsely claims that the 2016 election is “rigged”, and large-scale election and voter fraud rampant. Shortly after his election, he falsely claims he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”. He repeats these false assertions after he was sworn into office.

 brennancenter.org, July 18, 2017​

2017 President Trump signs an executive order creating the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”. The president’s invented legions of illegal voters are the most extreme such claims in recent memory. His statements have been almost universally rejected. 

brennancenter.org, July 18, 2017

The Heritage Foundation submits its Election Fraud Database, the work of a member of The Heritage Foundation and of the newly formed “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”.

2018  President Trump dissolves the “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity” touted by the White House as bipartisan but led by Vice President Pence and Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has long claimed there is widespread voter fraud by noncitizens despite providing no evidence of any such improprieties and only prosecuting a few fraud cases in Kansas.

 npr.org, Jan. 4, 2018​

2019 “More Voter Fraud Misinformation from Trump”

 factcheck.org, Jan. 30, 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.

2020  “The President’s Trumped-Up Claims of Voter Fraud”

 factcheck.org, July, 30, 2020. 

2020 Following the 2020 presidential election, the Republican party, embracing former President’s Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, intends, in the 43 “Red” states:

·  to raise new barriers to voting by Black voters and to further pursue gerrymandering in order to diminish the power of the Black vote.

·  through the so-called “Committee on Election Integrity” of the Republican National to support such efforts on a state-by-state basis.

Jan. 2021  The Heritage Foundation publishes its “Fact Sheet”, a blueprint for voter suppression laws which Heritage Action, the political arm of The Heritage Foundation, deploys, with the network of the Trump-dominated Republic National Committee and its state counterpart, the Republic State Leadership Council, to produce a tsunami of 2021 suppression bills and laws consider, passed and/or enacted by over 40 Republican-led state legislatures. These efforts are, effectively, the national “voting rights” legislation of the Republican Party, all aimed at the suppression of the right to vote of minorities and others who simply decided in 2020 not to vote for the anti-democratic policies of the Trump administration. 
2021 In more than a dozen states, at least 22 new laws have been passed that make it more difficult to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive public policy institute that is part of the New York University School of Law.
Mar. 2021 The Election Integrity Act of 2021, originally known as Georgia Senate Bill 202,[1][2] is a Georgia law overhauling elections in the state. It requires voter identification requirements on absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, expands early in-person voting, bars officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot request forms, reduces the amount of time people have to request an absentee ballot, increases voting stations or staff and equipment where there have been long lines, makes it a crime for outside groups to give free food or water to voters waiting in line, gives the state legislature greater control over election administration, and shortens runoff elections, among other provisions.[3][4][5]

The bill is part of broader Republican efforts to change election laws following efforts to overturn the victory of Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election (which focused in particular on Georgia and several other swing states) using claims of widespread election fraud.[6][7][8][9]Additionally, it follows a major upset for Republicans in the traditionally red state after voters narrowly went for Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the presidential election and elected Democrats to both of the state’s Senate seats.[10] According to the New York Times, the bill “will, in particular, curtail ballot access for voters in booming urban and suburban counties, home to many Democrats”.[3]

The bill has generated significant controversy, with President Joe Biden labeling the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st century”.[11] Georgia governor Brian Kemp has called criticism of the bill “disingenuous and completely false”, and has argued that it differs little from voting laws in most other states.[12][13]The Department of Justice announced in June 2021 it was suing Georgia on the basis the law is racially discriminatory.[14]


 May 2021 Arizona Republicans passed a law on Tuesday that will sharply limit the distribution of mail ballots through a widely popular early voting list, the latest measure in a conservative push to restrict voting across the country.

The legislation will remove voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, which automatically sends some people ballots for each election, if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years.

The vote-by-mail system is widely popular in Arizona, used by Republicans, Democrats and independents. The overwhelming majority of voters in the state cast their ballots by mail, with nearly 90 percent doing so last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, and nearly 75 percent of all voters are on the early voting list. Under the new law, the list will be called the Active Early Voting List.

The State Senate voted along party lines to approve the bill, and Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, surprised many observers by signing the legislation just hours later.


May 2021 Florida Republicans pass a law that will limit the use of drop boxes where voters can deposit absentee ballots, add more identification requirements for anyone requesting an absentee ballot, require voters to request an absentee ballot for each two-year election cycle (rather than every four years, under the previous law) and limit who can collect and drop off ballots.

The law also expands a current rule that prohibits outside groups from holding signs or wearing political paraphernalia within 150 feet of a polling place or drop box, “with the intent to influence voters,” an increase from the previous 100 feet.

The new law weakens key parts of an extensive voting infrastructure that was built up slowly after the state’s chaotic 2000 election. In 2020, that infrastructure allowed Florida to ramp up quickly to accommodate absentee balloting and increased drop boxes during the coronavirus pandemic.


June 2021 Republicans are favored to pass a bill in a special session, starting in June, after an unexpected turn of events presented a new hurdle in their push to enact a far-reaching election law that would install some of the most rigid voting restrictions in the country, and cement the state as one of the hardest in which to cast a ballot. 

 Democrats in the Texas Legislature staged a dramatic, late-night walkout to force the failure of a sweeping Republican overhaul of state election laws. The move, which deprived the session of the minimum number of lawmakers required for a vote before a midnight deadline.

 The final bill, known as S.B. 7, included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which were used for the first time during the 2020 election in Harris County, home to Houston and a growing number of the state’s Democratic voters.


June 2021 Senate Republicans blocked the For the People Act, a sprawling Democratic voting rights and government ethics bill Tuesday.

Democrats have called the For the People Act necessary as GOP-led state legislatures pass a string of restrictive voting laws, while Republicans have framed it as a federal takeover of elections.

The GOP has opposed even a more modest voting rights plan put forward by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has criticized his party’s bill.


Jun. 2021 Attorney General Merrick B. Garland lays out a detailed plan on Friday for protecting voting rights, announcing that the Justice Department would double enforcement staff on the issue, scrutinize new laws that seek to curb voter access and act if it sees a violation of federal law.

Mr. Garland said that the Justice Department will also partner with other federal agencies to combat election disinformation that intentionally tries to suppress the vote.

He also noted that the Department is aware of the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. Because such threats undermine the electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws, he stated that the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, together with the department’s National Security and Criminal Divisions, the 93 United States Attorneys, and the FBI, will investigate and promptly prosecute any violations of federal law.

June 2021 The U.S. Department of Justice files suit to strike down Georgia’s new elections law following a tsunami of voter suppression laws and bills in Republican-led state legislatures across the country. At issue is whether Georgia targeted minority and other voters by limiting absentee voting through new voter ID requirements, shorter voting deadlines, fewer ballot drop boxes, provisional ballot rejections and other restrictive policies on access to the ballot.


August 2021 Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) unveiled the newest version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act last week, which has been carefully crafted to address a series of Supreme Court decisions that hacked away at the Voting Rights Act and other means of protecting voting rights.

It would bring back preclearance with a vengeance, and require all 50 states — not just those with histories of racially discriminatory voting practices — to submit certain election practices for federal approval. Those include restrictive laws in areas that are seeing high growth in minority populations.

It would also bar courts from considering whether the law is supposedly useful in fighting fraud in VRA cases — generally the primary cover Republicans cite for restrictive legislation.

The proposal, ultimately a much more robust version of the original bill, would roll back the significant damage the conservative-majority Supreme Court has done to voting rights. Democrats have been collecting data about discriminatory voting practices to shore up the act in the likelihood that it’ll be litigated in court. But there is no guarantee that it’ll even get that far: to become law, the bill will have to get by the filibuster in the Senate, meaning it would have to attract at least 10 Republican votes — a prospect that seems next to impossible.

“Matt Shuham (TPM)” <mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com>
Before the Senate decamped early Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) set the stage for taking up voting rights reforms when it returns in September. In the meantime, a group of Democratic senators are negotiating behind the scenes on a package of reforms, expected to be  a whittled-down version of the For the People Act.


September 2021 Sen. Joe Manchin and Democratic colleagues introduce the Freedom to Vote Act.
October 2021 The procedural vote to begin debate on the Freedom to Vote Act was 49 in favor to 51 against, far short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “no” as a procedural maneuver that allows him to bring the bill to the floor again. All 50 Republicans voted against advancing to debate.


January 2022 Three previous voting-rights and democracy-reform bills that Democrats advanced in 2021 failed to even get a debate in the US Senate because of the filibuster rules. But this time around, congressional Democrats are deploying some unique procedural tactics to fast-track consideration of the bills in the Senate and ensure they get a debate on the Senate floor.

House Democrats voted along party lines to concur with an amendment to attach the two voting-rights bills to the text of an unrelated NASA bill. They intend to send it as a “message” to the upper chamber.

The new bill attached to the NASA measure, named the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, combines two pieces of major voting-rights legislation: the Freedom to Vote Act, a sweeping voting-rights and democracy-reform bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would refortify key parts of the Voting Rights Act that have been struck down or weakened by federal courts.

Under the Senate filibuster rules, most legislation requires 60 votes to even proceed to a debate. But because the NASA legislation has already been considered by both chambers, the voting-rights amendment is being sent as a message. Therefore it only requires a simple majority of 51 votes to advance to debate in the Senate.

But after the debate, the legislation itself would still require 60 votes to pass — an unlikely outcome in a Senate divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. All 50 Senate Republicans voted to block debate on the Freedom to Vote Act in October, and only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, moved to proceed to debate on the John Lewis bill.

The Business InsiderJanuary 13, 2022

March 31, 2022

Judge Rules Parts of Florida Voting Law Are Unconstitutional:




LAUREL M. LEE, in her official capacity as Florida Secretary of State, et al.,




Filed 03/31/22


July 2022

1) establishes a national standard of review for 26th Amendment legal challenges;

2) expands voter registration services at public colleges and universities;

3) allows young people in every state to preregister to vote before turning 18;

4) requires institutions of higher education to have on-campus polling places, with waivers available as appropriate;

5) codifies the right to vote from a college address;

6) guarantees that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements;

7) creates a grant program that supports youth involvement in elections, including paid fellowships for young people to work with state and local election administrators to engage their peers; and

8) gathers data on registration and voting based on age and race.



Dec. 2023

Today is Monday, December 11. We are tracking 1,980 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 416 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 944 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact. We are also tracking 35 prefiled bills across 6 states that will be considered in 2024.

The Bad News: Lawmakers in Wisconsin are floating a plan to eliminate the state’s bipartisan Elections Commission and give the state legislature a central role in the running of the state’s elections. A Missouri lawmaker who is likely to run for secretary of state in 2024 just prefiled a bill that would prohibit the use of electronic tabulators, requiring election officials to hand count all ballots.

The Good News: A federal district court in Arkansas allowed a challenge under the Voting Rights Act to move forward, despite an appeals court ruling last week that would prohibit many such challenges.

The Markup

A Weekly Election Legislation Update
December 11, 2023



Jan. 2024

A federal court declines to revisit a ruling that could weaken the Voting Rights Act


A federal appeals court has denied a request to revisit a ruling that could undermine a key tool for enforcing the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination in the election process.

It’s the latest move in an Arkansas state legislative redistricting case, filed by civil rights groups representing Black voters in the southern state, that could turn into the next U.S. Supreme Court battle that limits the scope of the landmark civil rights law.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released its decision Tuesday after attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union appealed the ruling by a three-judge panel last year.

That panel found that federal law does not allow private groups and individuals — who have for decades brought the majority of lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — to sue because that law does not explicitly name them. Only the head of the Justice Department, the panel found, can bring these kinds of lawsuits.

In the 8th Circuit’s majority opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge David Stras, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who also wrote the panel’s majority opinion, said that the panel’s opinion “mostly speaks for itself.”


MAR. 2024 U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) led Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and 48 of their Senate Democratic colleagues to reintroduce the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act, legislation that would update and restore critical safeguards of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 that have been eroded in recent years by federal court rulings. The legislation would strengthen our democracy by reestablishing preclearance for jurisdictions with a pattern of voting rights violations, protecting minority communities subject to discriminatory voting practices, and defending election workers from threats and intimidation. It is named in honor of voting rights champion and former Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

“The Supreme Court and Young Voter Turnout”


Georgia, with its long history of the suppression of Black voters, has been ground zero for fights about voting rights laws for decades. The state has often seen stark differences in turnout between white and nonwhite communities, with the latter typically voting at a much lower rate.

But not always: In the 2012 election, when Barack Obama won a second term in the White House, the turnout rate for Black voters under 38 in Lowndes County — a Republican-leaning county in southern Georgia — was actually four percentage points higher than the rate for white voters of a similar age.

It proved to be temporary. According to new research by Michael Podhorzer, the former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., by 2020, turnout for younger white voters in Lowndes was 14 percentage points higher than for Black voters of the same age.

What happened in between? It is impossible to tell for certain, with many variables, such as Obama no longer being on the ballot.

But a growing body of evidence points to a pivotal 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, that knocked down a core section of the Voting Rights Act. The court effectively ended a provision requiring counties and states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls — including all of Georgia — to obtain permission from the Justice Department before changing voting laws or procedures.