Development of the Suffrage,
Modern Voting Systems,
and Increased Public Role in
Electing Political Leaders

1. Voting in the colonial and early nation period was limited to adult white male property owners in most cases. So was the holding of public office.

2. The act of voting was often by oral announcement of one's support for a particular candidate.

3. By the time of the Revolution voting by written paper ballots was accepted in some colonies although not always required by law. Some elections by voice were still being held in Virginia up to the time of the Civil War. Kentucky was the last to ban it entirely in 1891.

4. In November 1775, the New Hampshire provincial congress, which took over after collapse of British control, granted the right to vote to "every male inhabitant ... of twenty-one years and upwards, paying for himself a poll tax." This was the first future state to end freehold qualifications for voting.

5. Of the 13 original states, 12 inserted limitations on the franchise that reflected the Federalist position. Mostly Southern states required ownership of a certain number of acres. Northern states, where land was scarcer and cities larger, generally only required proof of ownership of property of a certain value. Only New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Georgia just required the individual to be a taxpayer in order to vote.

6. In several states membership in the established religion of the state was also necessary for political participation.

7. The U.S. Constitution made no effort to control voting other than stipulating that those who voted for the members of the most numerous house of the state legislature were also entitled to vote for members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

8. Best estimate is that between one-half and three-quarters of white adult males in U.S. in 1789 were qualified to vote. This was about 10-15% of the total population.

9. No state after the original thirteen imposed a freehold qualification on their electorate. Furthermore, only three of the states to join the Union after 1789 imposed a taxpaying qualification.

10. In 1791 Vermont was the only state with full white manhood suffrage. The state required no property or taxpaying test.

11. The attempt to ease property ownership requirements in some states came through the substitution of the payment of a poll tax.

12. The dropping of religious qualifications for voting came first and was more or less complete by the early 1800s.

13. Estimate of 3% of total population voted for President in 1789, 4% in 1824, 11% in 1828, 17% in 1840.

14. The coming of the Jacksonian Revolution in the 1820s witnessed the removal of property requirements for voting and running for public office.

15. By 1845 absolute property restrictions on voting without any alternative had been abolished in all states but Virginia and North Carolina. While unrestricted adult white male suffrage generally existed among all the states, black male voting was greatly restricted.

16. Georgia and South Carolina, from the Revolution, limited suffrage to white males. Prior to the Civil War, six New England states had granted all males, regardless of race, equality at the polls. Between 1792 and 1839 seven state constitutions, mostly Southern, were changed to deny black suffrage. At the end of the Civil war, eighteen states of the North and West continued to deny the vote to blacks. Only New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts gave blacks the vote.

17. Voting by females in local communities prior to 1800 led the states to move to specifically exclude them.

18. The Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848 declared a Declaration of Women's Rights listing grievances - the first being "the denial of the electoral franchise"

19. The territory of Wyoming granted women's suffrage in December 1869. Kentucky was the first state to grant female suffrage, when women with children obtained the franchise in school elections.

20. Three reasons for opposition to female suffrage were:
(1) major corporations opposed to growth of working class vote
(2) brewers & distillers fear of prohibition vote
(3) Southerners who saw women united with abolitionists

21. The end of the Civil War led to an effort to impose black suffrage on the South. The Fourteenth Amendment provided for reduction of a state's representation in Congress by whatever percentage of black males over the age of twenty-one it denied the vote to. The Fifteenth Amendment specifically prohibited denial of the right to vote on the basis of race, national origin, or previous condition of servitude.

22. Southern states during Reconstruction came under considerable black political power as blacks gained the suffrage and white former members of the Confederacy were disenfranchised. Blacks were elected as governor, state legislators, and members of both houses of the U.S. Congress.

23. Fourteen black representatives and two black senators served in Washington, D.C. between 1869 and 1876. Reconstruction enfranchised more than 703,000 blacks compared to a total white registration in the reconstructed states of 627,000.

24. Following the end of Reconstruction native white southerners moved to reassert their political control.


25. In the ten-year period from 1896 to 1905 the black voter vanished from the
South, i.e. in Louisiana 130,334 black voters in 1896; l,342 in 1904.

26. Methods used by the southern states to remove blacks legally from the voter rolls included the following: (a) extended residency requirements for registering, (b) imposed the requirement of the payment of a poll tax, (c) established literacy requirements to register, and (d) operated all-white Democratic Party primaries. The inclusion of large numbers of whites in the literacy requirement was prevented by the use of grandfather clauses which excluded Civil War veterans and their descendants from coverage.

27. In early challenges in federal courts to southern tactics the outcome was mixed. In Guinn v. United States (1915) the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a literacy grandfather-clause in Oklahoma. It excluded all persons from the literacy requirement if their ancestors had voted on or before January l, 1866.

28. In Newberry v. United States (1921) the Supreme Court held that as far as federal elections were concerned the primary was "in no real sense" a part of them. However, in Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932) attempts by Texas to exclude blacks from its primaries were ruled unconstitutional. But in Grovey v. Townsend (1935) the Court ruled that an action by the state's Democratic party to do the same was constitutional. The Court held it was action of a private voluntary group.

29. In United States v. Classic (1941) the Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling in Newberry by holding that the federal government could prosecute voter fraud in a Louisiana primary. This decision was followed three years later by Smith v. Allwright (1944) when in another challenge to the Texas white primary system the Court reversed its Grovey ruling and rejected the "private" status theory of primary elections. This decision was reinforced by two others. In Rice v. Elmore (1948) a South Carolina effort to repeal some 150 statutory provisions governing primary elections did not save them from coverage; and, in Terry v. Adams (1953), an attempt by a Texas county to conduct a pre-primary election which excluded blacks was ruled unconstitutional.

30. Despite the victory on the primaries, blacks in the South continued to be excluded from politics for the most part. Breedlove v. Suttles (1937) upheld the legality of the poll tax requirement for voting. Slowly, some states dropped their poll tax requirement. Still, by the early 1960s there were five states that levied one. The adoption of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1868, which banned the payment of the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting in federal elections was followed by Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) which extended the poll tax ban to state elections as well.

31. Literacy and/or understanding tests were not just used in the South. In Williams v. Mississippi (1898), the Supreme Court upheld constitutional interpretation provisions for voting. By 1960 approximately a third of the fifty states required the voter to demonstrate some minimal literacy ability in order to vote. In Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections (1959) the Supreme Court warned that although literacy tests were constitutional, they could not be employed as tools for racial discrimination.

32. In 1957 Congress passed its first Civil Rights Act of the Twentieth Century. It created a Civil Rights Commission, gave it power to investigate voter discrimination and authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek court injunctions whenever an individual was either being deprived or about to be deprived of his voting rights. However, by 1960 the Justice Department had only filed four suits on behalf of blacks.

33. In 1960 Congress passed a second Civil Rights Act. This act allowed the government, whenever it found a pattern or practice of depriving blacks of their vote, to enfranchise the entire area under designation. Too, voter registrars who destroyed or withheld incriminating evidence would have to resign. It too was basically ineffective. However, in 1964 a third Civil Rights Act was passed. It required that all literacy tests be administered equally, that tests had to be in writing, that denial of the vote due to "inconsequential error or technicality" was illegal, and that all test papers be kept for possible review.

34. The real breakthrough came with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It suspended use of literacy tests in states and voting districts where less than 50 percent of the voting-age residents were registered in 1964 or actually voted in the 1964 Presidential election. Its constitutionality was upheld in South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966).

35. Over 130,000 blacks were registered by federal registrars in the first year after 1965 Voting Rights Act.

36. In Dunn v. Blumstein (1972) the Supreme Court held that state residency requirements for voting were unconstitutional restrictions on the right to vote and travel.

37. Susan Anthony's first attempt to win Congress support of vote for women was in 1878. The "Anthony Amendment" was forty-two years before it was adopted. In 1890 the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed. In 1893 Colorado became the second female suffrage state. Gradually other states joined and the movement spread. The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage was formed by Alice Paul.

It led a nation-wide lobbying effort. The Senate first voted on women's suffrage on March 17, 1914 but failed. The following year the House voted and also failed.

The 1916 Presidential election saw both parties' platforms recognize women's suffrage. An attempt was made to form a Woman's Party. Women began constant picketing of the White House. They were arrested and imprisoned.

In 1916 suffragettes won in New York. By then Wilson endorsed the proposed amendment. On January 10, 1918 the House of Representatives proposed the amendment. Wilson appeared personally before the Senate to plead for the proposal but was unsuccessful. Finally, on June 4, 1919 the Senate passed it by the necessary 2/3 vote. By summer of 1920 only one state was needed to vote for ratification. The struggle then focused on Tennessee, which became the thirty-sixth state to ratify at 8:00 a.m. on August 26, 1920.

38. The first state to grant the vote to eighteen-year-olds was Georgia in 1943. By the 1950s American opinion favored a lower voting age. In 1955 Kentucky approved 18 year vote. The new states of Alaska and Hawaii set voter age respectfully at 19 and 20. The 1970 Voting Rights Act lowered the voting age to 18 but was limited to the federal elections by the Supreme Court in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970). Shortly afterwards Congress sent the proposed 26th Amendment to the states, lowering the vote to 18 in all elections. It passed in record time.

39. Problems with early paper ballots:
(1) no official ballot
(2) some had to sign ballot
(3) some required showing ballot before depositing
(4) prepared ballots
(5) buying of votes
(6) printed by party on colored paper
(7) staffing of ballot boxes
(8) candidates had to pay party to get on ballot
(9) errors in printing (intentional and unintentional)

40. Australian Ballot reform issue of 1880s & 1890s
(1) Henry George - organized Ballot Reform League and United Labor Party which had a plank on Australian ballot
(2) Louisville, Kentucky was first to adopt the ballot in 1888
(3) Massachusetts in same year adopted state-wide
(4) by 1910 almost universal in U.S.
(5) American version is longer and partisan

41. New York enacted first voting machine law in 1892
(1) early ones did not work well
(2) adoption was slow; less than half voters in 1952 by machine

42. By the 1960s the voting machine was being replaced by a punch card system where voters punched out chads with a stylus. The resulting voter cards were fed through a computer for processing and totaling the results. By the year 2000 these punch card systems were The most prevalent method for voting in the country. As a result of the events in Florida in the 200 presidential election the punch card system was doomed. It is most often being replaced with new voter scantron systems where the voter uses his finger to make his selection on a computer screen.

A new system of internet voting using home, off site or at site computers to vote was tried on an experimental basis in the 2000 presidential year. Some see the future of internet voting as how we will vote. Others contend that there are still too many problems with such a voting process.

Finally, another method of voting is voting by mail. This system has been used in several states and has increased voter participation. Defenders of the system contend it works and is much more convenient for the voter.

43. By 1832 only Delaware and South Carolina did not have popular election of presidential electors. Delaware did in 1832. South Carolina did not until after the Civil War. Election of electors was in some cases by districts but shifted to state-wide after 1820.

44. Original state selection of U.S. Senators by legislatures resulted in distinguished men being chosen. Eventually selection was heavily fought partisan prize, often with corruption. Deadlocks between houses often developed. In 1866 U.S. law set forth certain procedures for state legislatures; however, serious deadlocks continued. Fourteen seats were left vacant in the Senate by deadlocked legislatures between 1891 and 1905.

Amendment proposals for popular election of Senators dated back to 1826. President Andrew Johnson pushed for an amendment. By 1870s the demand had grown. Before the change came in 1912 a total of 287 congressional resolutions had been introduced. After 1892, the House of Representatives, on five occasions, approved an amendment proposal but the Senate didn't act. In 1892 the Populist Party endorsed the proposal; and, in 1900 Democrats put it in their platform. Oregon began the process of voters expressing their choice for Senator in the general election, with candidates for seats in the state legislature pledged at the same time to accept the election result. Newly elected Senators elected by results of public referendums and growing petition of states for a national constitutional convention created greater demand for popular election of Senators. Finally, in 1911 Senator William Borah, a young Republic Progressive, led a push resulting in the Senate supporting a proposed amendment. However, the first Senate vote narrowly failed to receive a 2/3 vote. Finally, in May 1912, both houses had approved by a 2/3 vote. Less than a year later the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified.

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