Voting and Election Laws

Find Constitutional amendments and laws that protect our right to vote. Learn about election crimes and how to report them.

Voting Laws and Constitutional Amendments

Twenty thousand women march for the right to vote in a pre-election parade in New York City in October 1915.

Laws governing U.S. elections date back to Article 1 of the Constitution, which gave states the responsibility of overseeing federal elections. Numerous Constitutional amendments and federal laws have been passed in the years since to ensure all Americans have the right to vote and the ability to exercise that right.

Constitutional Amendments

  • The 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave African-American men the right to vote. However, many of them weren't able to exercise this right for nearly 100 years.  Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means used by some states made it difficult for them to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated these barriers that prevented many African Americans in the South from voting.
  • The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920, gave American women the right to vote.
  • The 24th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1964, eliminated poll taxes, which had disproportionately affected African Americans as a barrier to voting in federal elections.
  • The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age for all elections to 18.

Federal Voting Rights Laws

Various 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 provide some of the early federal statutory protections against discrimination in voting (42 U.S.C. 1971 & 1974). These protections originated in the Civil Rights Act of 1870, and were later amended by the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965 - This law prohibits voting practices and procedures that discriminate based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. It also requires certain jurisdictions to provide election materials in languages other than English.
  • Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 - This law generally requires polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 - This law allows members of the U.S. Armed Forces and overseas voters to both register to vote and vote by mail.
  • National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 - This law increases opportunities to register to vote and creates procedures for maintaining voter registration lists, making it easier for people to stay registered.
  • Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 - This law authorizes federal funds for election administration and creates the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It also requires states to adopt minimum standards on voting systems, provisional ballots, voter information posters on election days, and for first time voters who register to vote by mail and statewide voter registration databases. The EAC helps states to comply with these requirements.
  • Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 - This law amends the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to improve access to voting by military and overseas voters. It requires states to provide electronic access to various parts of the election process, mail absentee ballots to certain voters at least 45 days before an election, and develop a free access system to inform military and overseas voters about whether their voted ballots were received and counted.

State Voter ID Laws

Two-thirds of states require that you show some form of identification before you’re allowed to vote at the polls. Learn more about states' Voter ID requirements.

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Voter Accessibility Laws

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and other federal laws require that all Americans—including seniors and people with disabilities—have the same opportunity to participate in the voting process.

As a voter with a disability, you have the right to:

  • Vote privately and independently
  • Have an accessible polling place with voting machines for voters with disabilities

Specific requirements for physical accessibility of polling places include:

  • Wheelchair-accessible voting booths
  • Entrances and doorways that are at least 32 inches wide
  • Handrails on all stairs
  • Voting equipment that is accessible to voters who are blind or visually impaired

If you have a disability, you may either:

  • Seek assistance from workers at the polling place who have been trained to use the accessible voting machine, or
  • Bring someone to help you vote.

You can also ask your local election officials to tell you about other options available to you.

  • Some states offer “curbside voting,” in which a poll worker brings all voting materials to your car.
  • Some locations set up mobile polling places at long-term care facilities.
  • Local organizations often support people with disabilities by providing transportation to the polls and identifying the accessibility of polling places.
  • Many states offer absentee voting, so you can receive and return your absentee ballot through the mail.

Language Accessibility

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) helps people overcome language barriers to voting.

Federal law also allows you to bring another person to help you vote if you are unable to read or write.

For more information:

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Federal Campaign Finance Laws

The Federal Election Campaign Act requires candidates for federal office to disclose the source and amount of money they raise and spend. This includes individuals running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as those running for President..

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) administers the act and other federal campaign finance laws. It enforces campaign contribution limits for individuals and groups, tracks campaign finance data, and oversees public funding used in Presidential elections.

How Much Can You Contribute?

You, as an individual, could have donated up to $2,700 to any candidate running for federal office during the 2015-2016 federal election cycle, including candidates for President during the Presidential primary season. This amount will be adjusted for the 2017-2018 federal election cycle for members of the U.S. Congress based on the consumer price index.

For Presidential candidates only, you could have contributed another $2,700 to a major-party candidate during the 2016 general election season only if that candidate decided not to accept public funding.

Public financing funds are collected when taxpayers check the box on their federal tax return agreeing to donate $3 to the Presidential Election Fund. Checking the box doesn’t raise your taxes or reduce your refund—it just designates $3 of the taxes you’ve already paid for this fund.

Campaign Financing in the 2016 Federal Elections

Check out the FEC’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal to view funding data for past House and Senate elections as well as for President. You can view this information differently on the FEC’s beta site.

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Voter Fraud, Voter Intimidation, and Other Election Crimes

Federal election crimes fall into three broad categories:

  • Campaign finance crimes, such as when candidates accept donations that violate the amounts or sources permitted under the law

  • Civil rights violations, involving cases of voter intimidation, coercion, threats and other tactics aimed at suppressing a person’s ability to vote

  • Voter fraud and voter registration fraud, such as when a vote is illegally cast in the name of a dead person or someone who’s moved

Many states have strengthened their voter ID requirements in the past few years to try to curb voter fraud.

If you suspect that voter fraud has occurred, report it to your state or territorial election office. You can also report it to:

If you witness or suspect voter intimidation or suppression, you can report it to your state or territorial election office or to the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. You can also use this online Election Complaint Report form.

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Last Updated: July 20, 2017

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