KIDSGAZETTE

A timeline of voting rights in the United States

Chawn Yilmaz of Cedar Rapids was one of the people who became eligible to vote this year in Iowa after Gov. Kim Reynolds
Chawn Yilmaz of Cedar Rapids was one of the people who became eligible to vote this year in Iowa after Gov. Kim Reynolds restored the voting rights of roughly 35,000 felons who had completed their sentences. She cast her ballot on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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I know you know it’s almost an election.

Every commercial on TV and online is about somebody running for something. Both of the two major candidates for president just made last-minute visits to Iowa trying to win more votes. And starting in 2018, more than 20 politicians traipsed all over our state trying to win the Iowa caucuses back in February.

That’s all almost over. Tuesday is Election Day, the very last day voters can cast their ballots. (More than 685,000 in Iowa already have voted, through either mail-in or early voting.)

But who, exactly, gets to vote?

The answer to that question has changed over the course of the United States’ history. Usually, over time, our country has recognized the rights of more and more sorts of people to vote.

Kids still don’t have that right until they’re 18 — do you think you should be able to vote for president?

timeline of voting rights

1820: States that join the United States get to decide who is allowed to vote. They mostly decide to allow only white men who own property.

1850: Some jurisdictions write laws requiring people to pass literacy tests before they can vote. In some states, it was illegal to teach someone who was enslaved how to read, and many immigrants still were learning English. So these laws effectively kept many Black and immigrant Americans from voting.

1866: After the Civil War, the 14th amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to men 21 or older who are residents of the United States.

1869: The 15th amendment recognizes the right to vote for all men regardless of their race or if they were formerly enslaved.

1869-1870: The Utah and Wyoming territories recognize the rights of women to vote, but women across the country still aren’t allowed to vote.

1890: Lots of states start using secret ballots so people can’t be bullied into voting for one candidate or another at polling places.

1920: The 19th amendment finally gives all women the right to vote.

1964: The 14th amendment to the constitution outlaws poll taxes, which were used to keep poor people from voting.

1965: The president signs the Voting Rights Act, which enforces the 15th amendment (from 1869) by making it clear literacy tests and other barriers to voting are illegal everywhere in the U.S.

1971: Because of the draft for the Vietnam War, Congress lowers the voting age from 21 to 18 by passing the 26th amendment.

1975: Congress expands the Voting Rights Act so it protects the rights of people who don’t speak or read English.

1984: The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act makes it so polling places have to be accessible to people who have disabilities.

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1986: The voting rights of U.S. citizens living outside the country or on military bases are recognized.

2020: Iowa becomes the very last state to recognize the right of people who were convicted of felonies and completed their sentences.

Sources: Scholastic, Washington Secretary of State, U.S. Department of Justice, Associated Press

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.