How Much do you Know About United States Voting Rights?

John Miller

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About This Quiz

Open elections are a linchpin of America's principles of freedoms and justice. Many citizens, though, take for granted their ability to cast fairly counted ballots. How much do you really know about American voting rights?

When the United States was first established, who was allowed to vote?

The ideals of the Constitution were pretty lofty, and as it turns out, a bit hollow, too. When the country was first established, only white males could vote -- and you had to be a landowner, too. Everyone else was left out of the process.

The Constitution didn't really spell out who was allowed to vote. It gave power regarding that matter to which entity?

The Constitution only vaguely addressed voting rights. Instead, it allowed individual states to decide that matter -- and that turned into a very, very sticky situation.

What is "suffrage"?

Suffrage is the right to vote. It is one of the most important elements of free societies that attempts to balance equal rights for as many people as possible.

True or false: Was America the first place where people were allowed to vote on public matters?

Not even close. Various nations and entities have allowed people to vote for thousands of years. The first nation to allow everyone the right to vote was the Corsican Republic, which existed for just a few years in the mid-1700s.

In order to vote in American elections, a person must be at least what age?

At age 18, American citizens are eligible to vote. In a delicious twist of irony, those same adults are not allowed to purchase alcohol.

Of the 15 constitutional amendments that were passed following the Civil War, how many had to do with voting rights?

Voting is a critical aspect of the American republic. Four of the 15 post-Civil War Amendments expanded voting rights to various groups that would otherwise still be somehow disenfranchised.

What is "universal suffrage"?

In truly democratic societies, universal suffrage is a reality. It means that every adult, regardless of race, sex, creed or other factors, is allowed to vote in public elections.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified. How did it change voting rights?

Just a few years after the end of the Civil War, the 15th Amendment altered the voting landscape by allowing people to vote regardless of, "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Men who'd been enslaved just a few years earlier suddenly found themselves with voting power.

When did all white men (regardless of property ownership) finally get full voting rights?

Even white males couldn't get a fair shake with regard to voting. It took more than half a century (1856) for America to allow poorer white men the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. It gave full voting rights to which group?

Sadly, the 19th Amendment wasn't ratified until 1920. Happily, its long-overdue clauses finally gave women the power to vote.

True or false: Were women entirely prohibited from voting before ratification of the 19th Amendment?

Voting rights didn't always make sense. In some jurisdictions, women were already allowed to vote, especially if they were property owners.

Which state was the first to (temporarily) allow women to vote?

From 1776 to 1807, women were free to vote in New Jersey. And then, in a giant leap backward, the right was revoked.

What's a "poll tax"?

It used to be common for states to charge a poll tax to prospective voters. Oh, you can't afford to pay it? No voting for you! Poll taxes were yet another way for those in power to deny certain groups (particularly poorer people) the right to vote.

What sort of test was once used to deny certain groups the right to vote?

For years, literacy tests were used in some places, particularly Southern states, as a way to deny voting rights to black citizens. And for many years, they got away with it.

The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971. It prohibited the denial of voting rights to anyone based on which factor?

The 26th Amendment reasserted that all people over the age of 18 should be allowed to vote. And yet, many, many Americans over age 18 don't even bother to exercise their voting power.

True or false: Did the original language of the Constitution extend voting rights only to people of Christian faith?

With regard to voting, religion was one of the only factors that the Constitution addressed. And it specifically mentions that it simply doesn't matter what religion you do (or don't) follow, because it shouldn't affect your ability to cast a vote.

How do voter turnout rates among young Americans compare with those of older Americans?

Young Americans are famously apathetic when it comes to voting. Fortunately, as they get older, they tend to get wiser and are more likely to exercise their voting rights.

What was the purpose of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

During the social turbulence of the 1960s, authorities in some districts tried to suppress voting rights for certain groups. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 reinforced the 14th and 15th Amendments, essentially re-establishing and emphasizing rights that already existed.

Which state was the first to permanently allow women to vote?

In 1869, long before the women's suffrage movement really gained steam, Wyoming opted to let women vote. It was the first state in the Union to permanently offer voting rights to females.

The 24th Amendment brought an end to which dicey element of voting?

The 24th Amendment ended the concept of poll taxes. Ratified in 1964, it ended the practice of collecting a tax from people who simply wanted to cast their votes.

True or false: Did enslaved people in American have the right to vote before 1865?

No way. Slaves were never allowed to vote. When slavery was abolished at the end of 1865, former slaves were allowed to vote -- at least, in theory.

Which group is currently NOT allowed to vote in American elections?

Most countries don't allow non-residents to vote in elections. America is no exception -- non-residents aren't allowed to cast ballots.

What is "compulsory suffrage"?

Compulsory suffrage refers to a situation where all eligible citizens are required to vote. Dozens of countries around the world practice compulsory suffrage to boost voter turnout.

On March 7, 1965, voting rights marchers in Selma, Alabama set out on a protest march. What happened next?

It's known as "Bloody Sunday," because as the voting-rights marchers set off in Selma, they were attacked by law enforcement personnel. The unprovoked violence propelled the Civil Rights Movement to greater momentum.

What is one of the biggest factors that affect modern voter turnout numbers?

The research is clear. People who have higher levels of education vote more often than people with less schooling.

How did the success of women's suffrage affect voter turnout rates?

Sure, women won the right to vote ... but they were less likely to exercise that right than men. So voter turnout statistics actually dropped once the 19th Amendment was ratified.

Before the ratification of the 26th Amendment, what was the voting age in America?

Before the 26th Amendment, you had to be 21 years old to vote. But during WWII, draft age was lowered to 18, and in the years following that conflict, Americans believed that if you were old enough to fight, you were old enough to vote.

On March 15, 1965, President Johnson gave a speech to Congress regarding voting rights. He said that, "The command of the Constitution is _____."

Johnson was a proponent of reinforcing voting rights for everyone. "There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong, deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country."

Historically, what percentage of American citizens vote during presidential elections?

It's a dismal stain on America's voting record. Only about half of Americans vote during presidential elections. And during years when there is no presidential vote, that percentage drops even more.

Which country was the FIRST to grant full suffrage to all citizens?

Well, as you realize by now, it certainly wasn't America. In 1906, Finland opted to give all citizens the full ability to vote and also run for public office.

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