Voting Rights Act Timeline - taken from ACLU

By dmhorn
  • White men with property have the right to vote but Catholics, Jews, Quakers and others are barred from voting

  • The Naturalization Act bars Asian Americans from becoming citizens.

  • New Hampshire eliminates property ownership requirements, which gives more white men the opportunity to vote.

    New Hampshire becomes the first state to eliminate the rule that only property owners and taxpayers can vote. Following New Hampshire's lead, other states begin to shift away from such restrictions in an effort to open the electorate to more white males.
  • Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry redraws voting district lines to favor the Republican-dominated legislature against the Federalist Party.

    Today, the term "gerrymander" means the drawing of legislative district lines, usually in a bizarre manner, to give an unfair advantage to one group or political party. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in Davis v. Bandemer that the question of partisan gerrymandering could be settled in a court of law, no court has ever invalidated a redistricting plan on the basis of partisan gerrymandering.
  • The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ends the Mexican American War, giving Mexicans in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas U.S. citizenship.

    Mexicans living in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada are guaranteed U.S. citizenship in 1848, but their voting rights are denied when English proficiency is required to vote. Property and literacy requirements are imposed to keep them from voting, along with violence and intimidation.
  • Property qualifications for voting are eliminated in certain elections in North Carolina, giving all white men there the opportunity to vote.

    North Carolina becomes the last state to eliminate the rule that citizens must own property in order to vote in certain elections, effectively extending the right to vote to all white men within the United States (with the exception of those convicted of certain crimes).
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1866 grants citizenship, but not the right to vote, to all native-born Americans.

  • The Louisiana Republican Party platform includes a plank embracing equality for African Americans. John W. Menard is elected to Congress from Louisiana but is barred from taking his seat by white members of Congress. Oscar J. Dunn, a former slave, is elec

  • Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment giving African American men the equal right to vote.

    The Fifteenth Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. "In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, the Fifteenth Amendment is one of the major tools which enabled African Americans to more fully participate in democracy.
  • Hiram Revels is the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate and Joseph Hayne Rainey becomes the first African American member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jasper J. Wright is elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

  • The Fifteenth Amendment is ratified by the states, giving freed slaves and other African Americans the equal right to vote.

  • The forty-second Congress includes five black members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

  • The Hayes-Tilden compromise marks the beginning of the end of Reconstruction and effectively gives white Democrats free reign to subjugate blacks and newly-freed slaves.

    Disputed returns from the November 1876 presidential election, in which Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, but fell one electoral vote short of the 185 needed to win the presidency, provoke a Constitutional crisis. The crisis is resolved when Hayes agrees to recognize Democratic administrations in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina - and return federal troops to their barracks - in exchange for Democrats in Congress accepting him as Presiden
  • Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans.

  • In a setback to Native American voting rights, the Supreme Court rules in Elk v. Wilkins that John Elk, a Native American from Nebraska, cannot vote.

    The court rules that Elk is not allowed to vote in Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the United States. The court also states that Elk is not a citizen because he does not "owe allegiance to the United States," and that the Fifteenth Amendment does not apply to him.
  • Congress passes the Dawes General Allotment Act which grants citizenship only to those Native Americans who give up their tribal affiliations.

    The Dawes General Allotment Act seeks to open Indian lands for white settlement and to coerce Native Americans to assimilate into white society.
  • The Florida legislature adopts multiple disfranchising provisions which cause voter turnout among adult African American men to plummet from 62 percent to 11 percent over the next four years.

    The disfranchising provisions adopted by the Florida legislature in 1888 included a poll tax and an "eight box law," under which voters were required to place ballots in correct boxes which were then shifted throughout the day.
  • The Indian Naturalization Act grants citizenship to Native Americans by an application process.

  • The adoption of a new "grandfather clause" by Louisiana legislators disfranchises African American voters. The percent of registered black voters drops from 44.8% in 1896 to 4.0% four years later. In addition to Louisiana, statewide disfranchising convent

    Adopted as an amendment to the state constitution, Louisiana's grandfather clause prompts a huge decrease in registered African American voters. The provision requires voters to register between January 1, 1897 and January 1, 1898, and only allows literate property owners to register. Illiterate or non-property owning voters whose fathers or grandfathers could vote in 1867 also are allowed to register. Because nearly all African Americans were slaves two generations earlier, the measure effectiv
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Guinn v. United States that Oklahoma's "grandfather clause," which is used to disfranchise black men, is unconstitutional.

    Oklahoma's "grandfather clause," designed to disfranchise people of color and enforce segregation, is found unconstitutional in Guinn v. United States . The clause allows illiterate men to vote if they can prove that their grandfathers could vote. Because the grandfathers of most African American men in 1915 had been slaves, they did not have the right to vote. Consequently, the clause enabled illiterate white men to vote but not illiterate African Americans.
  • In a setback to Native American voting rights, the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in Opsahl v. Johnson to deny members of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe the right to vote.

    The Minnesota Supreme Court rules that members of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe cannot participate in county elections because tribal members have not "yielded obedience and submission to the [Minnesota] laws."
  • Native Americans in North Dakota who had abandoned their tribal ties secure the right to vote in Swift v. Leach .

    The North Dakota Supreme Court rules that 273 Indians of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are eligible to vote under the North Dakota Constitution because they "had adopted and observed the habits and mode of life of civilized people."
  • The Nineteenth Amendment, adopted by Congress on June 4, 1919, is finally ratified by the states and becomes national law, giving women the right to vote.

    Voting rights for women were first proposed in July 1848, at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention organized by suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. It took 72 years of protest and activism for the Nineteenth Amendment to become law. The measure was ratified by a single vote margin in the Tennessee state legislature on August 18, 1920, and became national law eight days later.
  • In Takao Ozawa v. United States the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Naturalization Act of 1790, which means that aliens are ineligible for citizenship.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bhagat Singh Thind v. The United States that Asian Indians are eligible for citizenship, which technically gives them the right to vote.

    Bhagat Singh Thind was born in Punjab, came to America in 1913, and later joined the U.S. Army. Thind applied for U.S. citizenship in 1920 and was approved, but a naturalization examiner appealed the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court then ruled in Singh's favor.
  • The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 declares all non-citizen Indians born within the United States to be citizens, giving them the right to vote.

    Despite passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, the right to vote is still governed by state law, and many Native Americans are effectively barred from voting until 1948.
  • In a setback to African American voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Breedlove v. Suttles to uphold the constitutionality of Georgia poll taxes.

    Because many African Americans can not afford to pay poll taxes, they are effectively denied the right to vote. Challenged as violating both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Georgia's poll tax is upheld, making Breedlove v. Suttles a major obstacle to African American voting rights.
  • Only 3% of eligible African Americans in the South are registered to vote.

  • In a major civil rights victory, the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, giving Chinese immigrants the right to citizenship and the right to vote.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Smith v. Allwrigh t that it is unconstitutional for political parties in Texas to discriminate based on race.

    In Smith v. Allright , t he U.S. Supreme Court rules that excluding African Americans from membership in the Democratic Party and from participating in primary elections is unconstitutional. According to the Court, primary elections are essential parts of the election process and subject to the Fifteenth Amendment.
  • Filipinos are granted the right to become U.S. citizens.

  • The federal court rules in King v. Chapman that white primary systems in Georgia are unconstitutional.

    In King v. Chapman , the federal court overturned Georgia's white primary systems saying, "The exclusions of voters made by the party by the primary rules become exclusions enforced by the State and when these exclusions are prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment based on race or color, the persons making them effective violate under color of State law a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States within the meaning of the statute..."
  • The U.S. Supreme Court permits unequal voting districts in Colegrove v. Green , thereby unfairly denying citizens equal representation in Congress.

    After the Illinois legislature redrew Congressional district lines and put more citizens in some districts than others, the redistricting was challenged as unfairly denying equal representation. In a setback to voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Illinois redistricting as constitutional by ruling that the way legislative districts are drawn is a political question best left to state legislatures, not the courts.
  • Only 125,000 African Americans in Georgia, or 18.8% of the population, are registered to vote.

  • South Carolina's effort to save its white primary is invalidated by federal court in Elmore v. Rice .

    In an effort to remove federal court jurisdiction from its primaries and thereby preserve its discriminatory white primary system, South Carolina had repealed all of its primary election laws. Ruling in Elmore v. Rice , the federal court still invalidated the white primary.
  • The McCarran-Walter Act gives first generation Japanese Americans the right to become citizens.

    The racial restrictions of the 1790 Naturalization Law are repealed by the McCarran-Walter Act, giving first generation Japanese Americans the right to citizenship.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

    By ruling that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment, the decision overturns the doctrine of "separate but equal" established in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
  • Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, giving the U.S. Attorney General the authority to bring lawsuits on behalf of African Americans denied the right to vote.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is the first such measure to pass Congress since adoption of the federal civil rights laws of 1875. Among other things, the Act authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to sue to correct discrimination and intimidation of potential voters.
  • In a major setback to voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections that literacy tests for voting in North Carolina do not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

  • Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1960 requires election officials to have all records relating to voter registration and permits the Department of Justice to inspect them. The Act also allows African Americans whose registration was previously rejected by local election officials to apply to a federal court or voting referee.
  • In Baker v. Carr , t he U.S. Supreme Court rules that courts can direct legislatures to redraw district boundaries to ensure citizens' political rights.

    Despite 60 year-old district boundaries that are unrepresentative of the true distribution of the population, Tennessee still uses them to elect members of its legislature. This gives rural citizens greater clout compared to urban residents, and conveniently dilutes the voting power of ethnic minorities and urban blacks. In Baker v. Carr, the Court rules that courts can order district boundaries to be redrawn, marking a major step forward for African American voting rights.
  • In Gray v. Sanders t he U.S. Supreme Court finds that Georgia's "county unit" system of voting is unconstitutional and articulates the essential concept of "one person, one vote."

    The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Georgia's "county unit" voting system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under this system, the state gave greater weight to rural votes and smaller urban counties than urban votes and larger rural counties. Because urban districts are much larger, individual voters had less say compared to rural voters over who got nominated in statewide primaries. Writing for the majority, Justice Douglas states: "The conception of political equa
  • The "March on Washington" led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. receives worldwide attention.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and says, "Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights."
  • Poll taxes are outlawed with the adoption of the 24th Amendment.

  • In Reynolds v. Sims , a major voting rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the one person, one vote rule applies to legislative bodies.

    Noting that "the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights," the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama legislative boundaries that had not been changed since 1900.
  • Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, and gender in voting, public places, the workplace and schools.

  • A Jackson, Mississippi, federal grand jury hands down indictments for the June 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers-James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

    Among those convicted are Deputy Sheriff Price, sentenced to six years in jail. Ku Klux Klan leader Sam Bowers and KKK member Wayne Roberts are sentenced to 10 years each. Mississippi made national news again in January 2005 when Edgar Ray Killen, a 79-year-old preacher and reputed Klansman, was arrested on murder charges regarding the 1964 slaying.
  • More than 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to dramatize the need for African American voting rights and to protest the fatal police shooting of Jimmy

    On Sunday, March 7, 1965, more than 500 peaceful demonstrators were brutally beaten on the outskirts of Selma, Alabama, after marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The dramatic events of "Bloody Sunday" were broadcast on national television and one week later President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a televised speech before Congress denouncing the assault as "wrong, deadly wrong." Five months later, he signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law, making August 6, 2005, the historic 40th anniversary
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, permanently barring direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities, prohibiting any election practice that denies the right to vote on account of race, and requi

    The Voting Rights Act is enacted as a permanent federal statute that allows for direct action to ensure the protection of minority voting rights. The Act forbids literacy tests and other barriers to registration that have restricted minority access to voting. The Act also empowers the Department of Justice and the courts to monitor problem jurisdictions and ensures that private citizens can seek redress through the courts to remedy violations of minority voting rights.
  • By the end of 1965, 250,000 new black voters are registered, one-third of them by Federal examiners.

    Black voter registration dramatically impacts politics in localities throughout the South. For example, in Dallas County, Alabama, where civil rights marchers were brutally attacked in Selma, the number of registered African American voters increased from 383 before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, to approximately 8,000 - which was slightly more than half the black voting age population in the county - by November 1965.
  • In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

    The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the enforcement clause of the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress "full remedial powers" to prevent racial discrimination in voting, and holds that the Voting Rights Act is a "legitimate response" to the "insidious and pervasive evil" which has denied blacks the right to vote since adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The Court further finds that Section 5 of the Act, which requires state and local officials in targeted jurisdictions to obtain federal pre
  • African American voter registration jumps from 6.7% in Mississippi before passage of the Voting Rights Act, to 59.8% in 1967.

  • Nine African Americans are elected to Congress, the largest number since 1875.

    The group includes Shirley Chisolm of New York, the first black woman to be elected to Congress.
  • In Allen v. State Board of Elections , t he Supreme Court interprets Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act broadly to require preclearance for a wide range of election practices.

  • Congress renews the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act for five years, and they are signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

    While there has been some progress made in registration and voting, Congress finds that many states purposefully ignore the preclearance provisions of Section 5.
  • Following the election of 12 African Americans to Congress in 1970, Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. of Michigan establishes the Congressional Black Caucus to secure a larger voice for African Americans in public affairs.

  • The 26th Amendment gives 18-year-olds the right to vote.

  • In Dunn v. Blumstein, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that Tennessee's "Duration Residency" Rule is unconstitutional, giving more people the opportunity to vote.

    Tennessee's duration residency rule, which states that voters must live in the state for one year, and in the county for 90 days, before they are eligible to vote, is ruled unconstitutional. Tennessee had claimed that the rule deters voter fraud and ensures that voters are knowledgable about what they are voting on, but the Court disagrees.
  • Barbara Jordan of Houston and Andrew Young of Atlanta become the first African Americans elected to Congress from the South since Reconstruction.

    As a three-term member of Congress, Jordan successfully campaigned for the inclusion of Native Americans, Latinos, Alaskan Natives and Asian language minorities in the Voting Rights Act, when the Act was renewed in 1975.
  • Atlantan Maynard Jackson becomes the first African American elected mayor of a major Southern city since Reconstruction.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Richardson v. Ramirez that states may deny convicted felons the right to vote.

  • President Gerald Ford reauthorizes the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act, including new measures to permanently bar literacy tests nationwide and give assistance to language minority voters.

    Congress extends the preclearance rules, which apply to some southern states, for seven years, and extends them to ethnic groups covered by the language assistance provisions. Congress also requires lanuage assistance to be made available when a single language minority group composes more than 5% of the voting age population, or at least 10,000 people in a jurisdiction.
  • Minority voting rights are strengthened in White v. Regester , when the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Texas redistricting is unconstitutional because it dilutes minority voting strength in Bexar County.

  • In a setback to voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Beer v. United States that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act allows preclearance of election changes that are unfair to the minority community as long as the changes are not "retrogressive" (

  • In a major setback to voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in City of Mobile v. Bolden that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent to successfully prevail in Section 2 litigation.

    Prior to City of Mobile v. Bolden , it was sufficient to prove a discriminatory result. The "intent-only" standard presents a major obstacle to minority votes who seek to end practices that produce discriminatory results where it is not possible to prove discriminatory intent.
  • Congress reathorizes the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act for 25 years and legislatively overturns the City of Mobile v. Bolden decision thereby re-establishing that proving a discriminatory result is sufficient to prevail in Section 2 litigati

    In addition to renewing Section 5 and the language minority protections of the Voting Rights Act, the 1982 extension adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voter. President Ronals Reagan declares that the right to vote is a "crown jewel" of American liberties.
  • In Thornburg v. Gingles , the U.S. Supreme Court strengthens minority voting rights by invalidating multi-member state legislative districts in North Carolina.

    While invalidating multi-member legislative districts in a redistricting plan adopted by North Carolina after the 1980 census, the U.S. Supreme Court identified three factors of primary importance to determine a violation of Section 2. Known as the "Gingles Factors," they are: 1. Whether "the minority sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district;" 2. Whether "the minority politically cohesive," i.e., tends to vote as a b
  • As a result of the Voting Rights Act, the number of black elected officials in Georgia grows to 495 in 1990, from just three prior to the VRA.

  • Congress passes the Americans with Disabilities Act which, among other things, requires that election workers and polling sites provide a range of services to ensure that people with disabilities can vote.

  • The language minority provisions of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act are extended 15 years and strengthened by adjusting the population thresholds to allow for assistance to more voters with limited English proficiency. The bill is signed into law b

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Presley v. Etowah County Commission that the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act do not cover legislative changes to the authority of elected officials.

  • Out of 38 African Americans elected to the US House of Representatives who will serve in the 103rd Congress, only three are elected from majority-white districts.

  • The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the "Motor Voter" Bill, makes registration more uniform and accessible, especially for minority and low income voters.

    The NVRA requires states to allow voter registration by mail, to allow voters to register when they apply for a driver's license and to allow voters to register at other state agencies such as welfare and unemployment offices.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Shaw v. Reno that a cause of action can be brought by white residents of majority black districts who contend that in drawing district lines the state subordinated traditional redistricting principles to race.

    Shaw v. Reno questions legislative redistricting plans that create districts likely to elect a member of a minority group. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that legislative districts drawn to comply with Sections 2 or 5 of the Voting Rights Act cannot consider race any more than is necessary, and must not be "bizarrely shaped."
  • M embership of the Congressional Black Caucus reaches 40, including Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Miller v. Johnson that race cannot be the "predominant factor" when drawing district lines.

    Followng the trajectory laid out in Shaw v. Reno , the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Georgia's majority black 11th Congressional District is unconstitutional because race was the "predominant" factor in drawing district lines and that the state "subordinated" its traditional redistricting principle to race without a compelling reason.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board that the federal government can preclear redistricting plans created with a discriminatory purpose, as long as the purpose is not to make things worse (retrogress).

    In Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board , the U.S. Supreme Court rules that even if an election pactice violates the Constitution or Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the federal government can preclear it under Section 5, as long as it doesn't weaken the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choice.
  • Help America Vote Act. Congress provided funds to states to improve election administration and replace outdated voting systems. HAVA also creates minimum standards for states to follow in areas of election administration and provides for voting by provis

  • In Georgia v. Ashcroft , the U.S. Supreme Court interprets Section 5 to allow preclearance of redistricting plans even if the plans diminish the minority communities' ability to elect, as long as the community is given "influence."

  • Vieth v. Jubelirer. A fractured Supreme Court held that claims of partisan gerrymandering were nonjusticiable.

  • League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry. The Supreme Court invalidated a Texas congressional redistricting plan as diluting Latino voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

  • Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act. Congress extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years. It also remedied the decision in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Bo

  • Crawford v. Marion County. The Supreme Court rejected a facial challenge to the constitutionality of Indiana law requiring those voting in-person to present a government issued photo ID.

  • Bartlett v. Strickland. The Supreme Court held that the ability to create a majority-minority district was a prerequisite for a vote dilution claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

  • Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder. The Supreme Court held that any jurisdiction covered by Section 5 was entitled to bail out. The Court further found it unnecessary to decide the plaintiff’s claim that Section 5 as extended in

  • Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. Congress established procedures for absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters to request and states to send voter registration applications and absentee ballot applications by mail and electronically