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

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.

Voter Accessibility Laws

Several federal laws protect the rights of Americans with disabilities to vote. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Voters with disabilities have the right to:

  • Vote in private, without help

  • Have an accessible polling place with voting machines for voters with disabilities

Polling places must have:

  • Wheelchair-accessible voting booths

  • Entrances and doorways at least 32 inches wide

  • Handrails on all stairs

  • Voting equipment for people who are blind or visually impaired

If you have a disability, you may:

  • Seek help from poll workers trained to use the accessible voting machine, or

  • Bring someone to help you vote.

You can also ask local election officials what other options you have.

  • Some states offer “curbside voting," when a poll worker brings everything you need to vote to your car.

  • Some set up polling places at long-term care facilities.

  • Local organizations may provide transportation to the polls.

  • Many states let people with disabilities vote by mail.

Language Accessibility

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

Federal law also lets you bring someone to help you if you can't read or write.

Get Help and Learn More

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, can donate up to $2,800 to any candidate running for federal office during the 2019-2020 federal election cycle. 

Campaign Financing in Federal Elections

Check out the FEC’s campaign finance data to view candidates' funding data.  

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: October 31, 2018