Voting in America

Who can vote? The right to vote is sometimes referred to as "suffrage." The right of suffrage in the United States is currently enjoyed by all citizens over the age of eighteen. However, this has not always been the case. In the early years of the republic, the eligible electorate consisted primarily of white, male, property owners. States gradually relaxed property-ownership requirements until most male citizens of twenty-one years or more were allowed to vote. After the Civil War, the right to vote was extended to all citizens, regardless of race, by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The Women's Suffrage Movement succeeded with the 19th Amendment and the extension of the right to vote to women (some states already allowed women to vote, but the Amendment required all states to do so). The 23rd Amendment allotted electoral votes to the District of Columbia, thereby giving its residents the right to vote in presidential elections. And the 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, granted the right to vote to every citizen eighteen years of age or older.

Simply because voting rights are formally extended by the Constitution, however, does not mean they are actually exercised. Most notably, black voters did not fully enjoy the right to vote for many years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment because of intimidation, discrimination and tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes (see "The Civil Rights Movement"). Moreover, many people who have the right to vote simply choose not to exercise it. Millions of eligible voters have not even registered to vote.

Facts & Figures

Voter Registration and Turnout
1996 Presidential Vote by Partisan Identification
Federal Election Schedule
Historical Share of Two-Party Vote
Summary Tables of Campaign Spending

Historical Documents

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Federalist Papers
No. 50 - Periodic Appeals to the People Considered
No. 68 - The Mode of Electing the President

AntiFederalist Papers
No. 52 - On the Guarantee of Congressional Biennial Elections
No. 59 - The Danger of Congressional Control of Elections
No. 61 - Questions and Comments on the Constitutional Provisions Regarding the Election of Congressmen

Reasearch and Study Helps

Why are sitting members of Congress almost always reelected?
Is it rational to vote

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

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Voting in America on the Web

Learn about the Voter Registration Requirements in your State.

Use this form to register to vote in any state! (You need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this form. Click here to download your free copy of the Reader.)