U.S. election laws date back to Article 1 of the Constitution. This gave states the responsibility of overseeing federal elections. Many Constitutional amendments and federal laws to protect voting rights have been passed since then.
Constitutional Amendments Affecting Voting Rights
The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote in 1870. But many weren't able to exercise this right. Some states used literacy tests and other barriers to make it harder to vote.
The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, gave American women the right to vote.
The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, eliminated poll taxes. The tax had been used in some states to keep African Americans from voting in federal elections.
The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age for all elections to 18.
Federal Voting Rights Laws
Federal laws passed over the years help protect Americans’ right to vote and make it easier for citizens to exercise that right:
The Civil Rights Acts created some of the earliest federal protections against discrimination in voting. These protections were first outlined by the Civil Rights Act of 1870 and were later amended by the Civil Rights Acts of
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited voter discrimination based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. It also required certain places to provide election materials in languages besides English.
- The act also placed limits on certain states with a history of voter discrimination. These states had to get federal approval before passing voter restrictions. A 2013 Supreme Court decision struck down this rule.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 required polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 allowed members of the U.S. armed forces and overseas U.S. voters to register and vote by mail.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 created new ways to register to vote. It also called for states to keep more accurate voter registration lists.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 authorized federal funds for elections. It also created the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC helps states comply with HAVA to adopt minimum standards on voter education, registration, and ballots.
The Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 improved access to voting by military and overseas voters.
State Voter ID Laws
Two-thirds of states require you to show some form of identification before you’re allowed to vote. Learn more about states' voter ID requirements.