Pivotal Moments of the Development of the Voting Rights Act

By Sharon King

Essential Questions

Why are voting rights not just a lawful right, but a privilege?

Why is your right to exercise your vote and make your voice heard vital?

Answer: Voting rights are not just a lawful right, but a tremendous privilege because they are the most powerful non-violent tool exercised on behalf of democracy to create a more perfect union for all American citizens. Since there are forces that try to impede people of color from voting with their shrewd acts of voter suppression, being able to freely vote without obstruction makes voting a privilege. Many people have marched, fought, and died for oppressed citizens to have this lawful and moral right to vote; therefore, their courageous acts make it a privilege. We must keep marching  and fighting for justice and equality, we have our orders from the late U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

Key Dates and History about Voting Rights

1789The Constitution grants the states the power to set voting requirements. Generally, states limited this right to property-owning or tax-paying white males (about 6% of the population).

1870The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Disfranchisement after the Reconstruction era began soon after. Former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws and amendments to effectively disfranchise black and poor white voters through poll taxesliteracy testsgrandfather clauses and other restrictions, applied in a discriminatory manner. During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld state efforts to discriminate against racial minorities.

Freemen voting in New Orleans, about 1867 from NY Public Library

1920Women are guaranteed the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In practice, the same restrictions that hindered the ability of non-white men to vote now also applied to non-white women.

Women’s Suffrage marching for the right to vote.

1924All Native Americans are granted citizenship and the right to vote through the Indian Citizenship Act, regardless of tribal affiliation. By this point, approximately two-thirds of Native Americans were already citizens. Notwithstanding, some western states continued to bar Native Americans from voting until 1948.

June 2, 1924: Calvin Coolidge Signs the Indian Citizenship Act

1965Protection of voter registration and voting for racial minorities, later applied to language minorities, is established by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This has also been applied to correcting discriminatory election systems and districting. This key legislation on discrimination was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

John Lewis crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, 1965


Shelby County v. Holder was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to pre-clearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.

The Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) as unconstitutional in its June 25, 2013 ruling. The majority opinion was delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

Qualities of a Dynamic Forward-thinking Leader

When selecting political leaders, it is important to be well informed and know what your candidates stands for, and that their values are in line with yours. Here are just some of the essential qualities to consider in a dynamic leader.

  • Revolutionist for clean energy and environmental justice for all people.
  • Transformational rather than transactional in their vision for the betterment of humanity.
  • Possesses the knowledge that the environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.
  • Addresses the root causes of oppression through education and job opportunity.
  • Courageous in forcing the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance that impacts us all.
  • Problem solver.
  • A servant to and for the people, understanding both their societal and cultural needs.
  • Working always for ‘the greater good’.

Featured image: Black, White people voting together – Md. November 6. Photograph by Warren K. Leffler. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Pivotal Moments of the Development of the Voting Rights Act