The History of Voting in the United States

Created on Sep 10, 2020 by Kathy Pinna
Most Americans have their first voting experience in school - class president, vice-president, and other officers are chosen every year. So begins their foray into democracy.

In the beginning of our democracy, only white men who were property owners could vote. In the succeeding decades, African-Americans and women were added to the Constitution, giving a voice to those who were previously left out. And yet, many do not choose to exercise their right. In 1828, 57.6% of those eligible voted, in 1876 a high of 81.8% men voted. Since then, there has been a steady decline in those who have participated. In 2016, the voting age population was 250+ million but those who turned out to vote numbered a mere 138+ million - only 55.5% of those eligible. If you think that this is a low percentage, it was higher than the previous half century when the percentage hovered around 50%.

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The History of Voting in the United States

Kate Bernard, 1915

First statewide officer holder

A member of the Democratic party, Kate Bernard was elected in 1907 to the Oklahoma Commissioner of Charities and Corrections - the only statewide office that a woman could hold at the time (this was before women could vote). While she was elected to two terms, her office was defunded when she began to advocate on the behalf of Native Americans and her second term was ended prematurely. Almost 80 years later, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame.

Mrs Coolidge Votes by Mail

Almost 100 years ago, the First Lady of the U.S. voted by mail

On October 30, 1924, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge sat in the garden of the White House and filled in her mail-in ballot. Mail in voting was added to the Constitution in 1864 (Article XIII of the Amendments to the 1818 Constitution) to allow Civil War soldiers to vote by absentee ballot.

Wood Engraving of "Counting the Vote", 1876

This picture of men counting the vote was published in the December version of Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper. Notes of interest? Only men are pictured (because only men could vote) and the ballot box is an actual wooden box!

Jeannette Rankin, 1916

First Congresswoman in the U.S.

Jeanette Pickering Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916 and again in 1940. She was the first woman to hold a federal office in the US (and the last - to date - woman to be elected to Congress from Montana). Maybe that will change?

Harper's Weekly. 1876

African-American men lined up to vote

In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution prevented states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude".

Unfortunately, the former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws and amendments in order to disfranchise black and poor white voters. They used poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions, applied in a discriminatory manner.

Dunklin County, Missouri

An African-American man voting in the primary election in MO, 1942

Electoral Voting, Washington DC

Counting the electoral vote, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C in April 1917

Bobroff Voting Machine

An updated way to vote?

This is a photo of the BOBROFF VOTING MACHINE being considered for use by the House of Representatives in 1917.

President Taft Voting

A photo of President Taft voting circa 1915. Does he look more interested in the camera than the ballot?

Annie Marshall Reid Rolph

The wife of the Mayor of San Francisco voting in the election. California gave women the vote in 1911 - 9 years before the Federal government did.

Caricature of What Would Happen if Women Voted

Puck Magazine:

In 1909, Puck Magazine ran a picture of what would happen if women could vote: They would go out to cast their ballot and be distracted by such "meaningless" things as buying a new hat.

1964 Washington DC

In this photo of the 1964 Presidential election, a young African-American woman is voting. Some places were beginning to make it easier for minorities to vote.

Moments in Time

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