Voting R
ights in America

A vote is the best way of getting the kind
of country and the kind of world you want.
–HARRY S. TRUMAN

The history of the amendments to the Constitution is, in one sense, a history of the expansion of certain political freedoms, including voting. At the Founding of the United States, many groups, including landless white men, slaves, free blacks, and women, could not vote. Much has changed since then. Almost a third of the amendments added to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was ratified concern the ability to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to former slaves and people of color. The Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to women, while the Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth amendments gave representation to the District of Columbia, forbid poll taxes, and lowered the voting age to 18, respectively. The passage of each of these Amendments reflected a shift towards making voting a right of all citizens, and indeed a fundamental part of citizenship. Today, controversies hinge on how best to balance voter access with safeguards to ensure that fraud doesn’t undermine the sanctity of every individual’s vote. In this lesson, students will focus on the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-sixth Amendments. Students will evaluate how each amendment increased political freedoms.


Student Handout (PDF)

Lesson Plan (PDF)

News Sources:

Hispanic Politicians Fight Texas Voter ID Law In Court
9/18/13
FoxNews.com

One victory, one defeat for student voting rights in North Carolina
9/4/13
MSNBC

Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Franken Over the Top in Minnesota, Study Finds
7/12/10
FoxNews.com

Primary Source Readings:

Additional Amendments

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Sentiments

Questions:

  1. To which groups did the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments extend the right to vote?
  2. What are some of the grievances that Stanton names in the Declaration of Sentiments? What are some similarities between the Declaration of Sentiments and the Declaration of Independence?
  3. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tests were used as barriers to voting. What, in theory, justified these tests? What, in practice, were these tests meant to accomplish?
  4. Recently, there has been debate over whether voter ID laws are constitutional, as some people who vote do not currently have driver’s licenses or other forms of acceptable identification. Do you believe that voter ID laws could be beneficial? Do you believe that voter ID laws are constitutional?
  5. The voting age was lowered in response to Vietnam War, as many young people who were drafted were still unable to vote. Why do you think this was an issue? How does objection to being sent to war without the right to vote relate to the objections of the Founding Fathers to rule by Great Britain?
  6. People who are not citizens are legally barred from voting in federal elections. In many states, felons are not allowed to vote. Do you think these restrictions are appropriate? Why or why not? Are there any other factors that should prevent individuals from having legal access to the ballot box?
  7. When a person has the legal right to vote, are there any circumstances under which he or she should choose not to vote? For example, what if the person does not follow current events or is poorly informed about the candidates or the issues?