The Enduring Constitution: Timeline: Government by the People

Updated July 22, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Civics: Government and Economics in Action

American Government: Government by the People

1790 Only white male adult property-owners have the right to vote.
1810 Last religious prerequisite to vote eliminated.
1850 Property ownership and tax requirements eliminated by 1850. Almost all white males could vote.
1855 Connecticut adopts first literacy test for voting. Massachusetts follows suit in 1857. The tests were implementd to discriminate against Irish-Catholic immigrants.
1870 The 15th Amendment is passed. It gives former slaves the right to vote and protects the voting rights of adult male citizens of any race.
1889 Florida adopts a poll tax. Ten other southern states will implement poll taxes.
1890 Mississippi adopts a literacy test. Many other states—not just in the south—also establish literacy tests for voting. However, since many whites were not literate, these states added a grandfather clause that would allow those who could vote before 1870, or their descendants, to vote regardless of literacy or tax qualifications.
1913 The 17th Amendment calls for members of the U.S. Senate to be elected directly by the people instead of State Legislatures.
1915 Oklahoma was the last state to append a grandfather clause to its literacy requirement (1910). In Guinn v. United States the Supreme Court rules that the clause is in conflict with the 15th Amendment, thereby outlawing literacy tests for federal elections.
1920 The 19th Amendment guarantees women's suffrage.
1924 Indian Citizenship Act grants all Native Americans the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections.
1944 The Supreme Court outlaws "white primaries" in Smith v. Allwright (Texas). In Texas, and others states, primaries were conducted by private associations, which, by definion, could exclude whomever they chose. The Court however, declared the nomination process to be a public process bound by the terms of 15th Amendment.
1957 The first law to implement 15th amendment passed is the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Act set up the Civil Rights Commission—among its duties is to investigate voter discrimination.
1960 In Gomillion v. Lightfoot (Alabama) the Court outlaws "gerrymandering."
1961 The 23rd Amendment allows voters of the District of Columbia to participate in presidential elections.
1964 The 24th Amendment bans the poll tax as a requirement for voting in federal elections.
1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., mounts a voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama, to draw national attention to African-American voting rights.
1965 The Voting Rights Act protects the rights of minority voters and eliminates voting barriers such as the literacy test. The Act is expanded and renewed in 1970, 1975, and 1982.
1966 The Supreme Court, in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, eliminates the poll tax as a qualification for voting in any election. A poll tax was still in use in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia.
1966 The Court upholds the Voting Rights Act in South Carolina v. Katzenbach.
1970 Literacy requirements are temporily banned by the 1970 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Eighteen states still have a literacy requirement. In Oregon v. Mitchell, the Court uphold the ban on literacy tests. Judge Hugo Black, writing the court's opinion, cited the "long history of the disriminatory use of literacy tests to disenfranchise voters on account of their race."
1971 The 26th amendment sets the minimum voting age at 18.
1972 In Dunn v. Blumstein, the Supreme Court declares that lengthy residence requirements for voting in state and local elections unconstitutional and suggested that 30 days was an ample period.
1975 The Court's ruling in Hill v. Stone strikes down a section of the Texas constitution that allowed only those who owned taxable property to vote in city board elections because it violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
1995 The Federal "Motor Voter Law" takes effect, making it easier to register to vote.
2003 Federal Voting Standards and Procedures Act requires states to streamline registration, voting, and other election procedures.
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