Voting Amendments in the U.S.

15th Amendment: Race No Bar to Vote

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Passed by Congress: 2/26/1869
Ratified by states & took effect: 2/3/1870

African Americans are shown registering to vote in Marion County, Indiana

Here, African Americans are shown registering to vote in Marion County, Indiana. Even though African Americans gained the right to vote in 1869, it was a long time before most African Americans were able to exercise this right. Indianapolis Recorder Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society

One result of the Civil War was the addition of three new amendments to the U. S. Constitution: the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th granted blacks citizenship and equal protection; and the 15th Amendment attempted to secure the right to vote for newly freed slaves. In many abolitionists’ eyes, the right to vote was the most important right of citizenship for black men.

Republicans knew that at the conclusion of Reconstruction, Democrats most likely would regain control of state and local governments in the southern states. When this happened, without access to the ballot, they anticipated that the freedmen would lose their hard earned rights and also their voice in government. In an effort to secure black citizens’ rights, Congress passed the 15th Amendment on February 26, 1869. Tennessee was the last state to ratify the 15th Amendment, 128 years later.

McPherson, James. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: McGraw Hill, 2001 p. 588-589.

19th Amendment: Women's Suffrage

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any on account of sex.

Passed by Congress: 6/4/1919
Ratified & took effect: 8/18/1920

Indiana’s suffragette, Helen Gougar (1843-1907)

Indiana’s suffragette, Helen Gougar (1843-1907)
Richard Kriebel, Where the Saints Have Trod, Purdue University Press

Following the Civil War, women activists who had helped to secure the rights of the newly freed slaves were disenchanted by their exclusion under the 15th Amendment. As a result they vigorously resumed their campaign for equality with men politically, economically, and educationally. Gaining the right to vote was a top priority. However, many American politicians continued to oppose these efforts.

The “suffragettes,” as they were called, sponsored lectures, marches, publications, lobbied the government for the right to vote, and participated in parades.

Turn-of-the-century suffragettes in Hebron, Ind., held a parade to gain support for their right to vote.

Turn-of-the-century suffragettes in Hebron, Ind., held a parade to gain support for their right to vote. Hebron is located in Porter County, in northwest Indiana. Treasures from the Indiana Historical Society, Indiana Historical Society

After WWI, and only because of the support of President Wilson, women finally won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Before the amendment went into effect, women in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho previously won the right to vote in local and state elections. Indiana, however, did not grant Hoosier women the right to vote until the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Indiana was the 26th state of the 36 states required for ratification. In 1895, Hoosier Helen Gougar sued in the Tippecanoe Superior Court for damages when she was denied the right to vote by the local election board. Judge Everett found in favor of the election board, and Gougar lost again in 1897 when the Indiana Supreme Court upheld Everett’s decision.

DeSantis, Vincent. The Shaping of Modern American: 1877-1920. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson Inc., 114-118.

26th Amendment: Voting Age

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.

Passed by Congress: 3/23/1971
Ratified & went into effect: 7/1/1971

The Vietnam War and the minimum voting age were both key political issues in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The Vietnam War and the minimum voting age were both key political issues in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Emotional images like this young child in a stroller frequently appeared in newspapers and magazines articles trying to persuade members of Congress to lower the voting age.
Indianapolis Recorder Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Movements to reduce the constitutionally established voting age from 21 to 18 had been underway since WWII when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the draft age to 18. Despite the recommendation of several Presidents, the U.S. Congress took no action.

However, in 1971, faced with growing divisions over the Vietnam War and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Oregon (1970), Congress began to discuss an amendment to lower the age required for voting to 18. Indiana's own Birch Bayh, a U.S. Senator at the time, authored the amendment. He served as the Chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Constitutional Amendment. Congress passed the 26th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and thirty-nine states ratified it within 100 days. On April 8, 1971, Indiana became the 18th state to ratify the 26th Amendment.

Thirty-seven years later eight states have yet to ratify the 26th Amendment. Indiana’s neighbor, Kentucky, is one of the states yet to ratify.