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History of Voting Rights and Voter Suppression

This Guide is about voting, including the history of voting rights and voter suppression. Voting is one of the most important civic actions we can take to make our voices heard, express what policies we believe in and create the kind of change we want to see happen.

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Photo of New Yorkers in Brooklyn waiting on long lines to vote in the 2008 presidential election.
April Sikorski from Brooklyn, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0

It is both a right and a civic duty for us to make our voices heard.

Voting is an important way to make sure that we choose elected officials who believe in and support the policies that we (their constituents) want to see enacted. Voting also can be a way to have a direct say on policy through ballot proposals in local elections.

Some politicians and individuals are fighting to enact laws that take away or reduce your voting rights because they do not want your voice to be heard. This is called voter suppression.

The U.S. has a long history of denying certain groups the right to vote based on factors like race and gender. Recently, between January 1, 2021 and Sept. 27, 2021, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote.

Voting, and who gets elected, determines how issues like education, housing, and healthcare are managed as well as the creation of laws that make it harder or easier to vote.

The History of Women's Voting Rights

Watch this video to learn the story of how women got the right to vote:



Key Years In Voting Rights History

1870 – 15th Amendment: All male U.S. citizens gained the right to vote.

1920 – 19th Amendment: White Women gained the right to vote. 

1924 – Indigenous persons born in the U.S. gained the right to vote.

1965 – Voting Rights Act (VRA) eliminated discriminatory voting practices to make sure all Americans could vote, particularly people of color.

2013 – Shelby County v. Holder: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that removed a key part of the VRA that protected against discrimination.

Notice that women, indigenous persons, and people of color were not able to vote in the U.S. until the 20th century! For a more extensive voting rights timeline, see Learning for Justice’s Voting Rights Timeline

Voter Suppression

Voter suppression is directly connected to voting rights, including who has them, who does not, and how this has changed over time. Essentially, anything that makes it harder to vote or denies, discourages, or disrupts someone’s ability to vote, is a form of voter suppression that makes it harder for all voices to be heard. 

Reducing/eliminating voter suppression is essential for a healthy democracy, which most literally can be translated to “rule by the people” or power of the people. It is a form of government where the people/residents make the decisions and give input to how the government is run.

Voter Suppression Tactics

You might be surprised to learn that something as common as long lines at the polls can be voter suppression, but it is. In fact, long lines for voting is usually a result of factors like limited poll sites and reduced voting hours, and this especially occurs in low-income neighborhoods.

Other barriers to voting and suppression tactics include:

Voter Registration Restrictions
Some laws make it harder to register to vote including limited windows for registering to vote and policies that do NOT allow for same-day voter registration

Voter Intimidation
An example of this can include the presence of police or civilians with guns at polling sites.

Voter ID Laws
Laws that require identification documents for persons to vote.

Criminalization of the Ballot Box
Policies that make it illegal to give out food and water to voters who are waiting in long lines.

Felony DisenfranchisementL
Laws that prevent persons with a previous felony conviction, those who are incarcerated, and/or those on parole from voting

Lack of Polling Sites

Lack of Accessibility
This includes no accommodations for people with disabilities at polling sites.

No Early or Mail-In Voting
This means less flexibility for voters to be able to vote when it is possible or convenient (e.g. on your day off during the weekend).

Voter Purges
Removing eligible voters from the voter database system without good reasons and without notifying the voters.

Altering district boundaries in order to give an unfair political advantage for one’s political party in an election.

*If you have a problem at the polls, call the
Voter Suppression Hotline at 866-687-8683.

The Election Protection Coalition provides four numbers you can call to help with questions on or before Election Day in different languages. 


The Consequences: Who is Most Disenfranchised by Voter Suppression and Restrictive Election Laws?

Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to report experiencing problems at the polls and voter suppression tactics are especially a disadvantage for primary caregivers, the elderly, differently abled people, and working voters – especially women and women of color.

​​Did you know? Across the country, 1 in 16 Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws.

Other life experiences continue to limit people’s ability to vote, such as houselessness, domestic and sexual violence, and lack of access to non-English-language ballots. Survivors of intimate partner violence – largely women and disproportionately transgender women – often flee their homes without official documents needed for voter registration, or have their documents withheld by their abusers.

Get Involved and Take Action for Voting Rights

Protect The Right to Vote and Combat Voter Suppression! 

  • Know Your Rights: Learn about what your rights are, how to exercise them and what to do when they’re being violated. (Check out the ACLU’s Voting Rights resource.)
  • Volunteer: Be an election protection volunteer with The Election Protection Coalition to protect the right to vote in elections and prevent voter suppression. If you or anyone you know encounters problems while voting, call: 866-OUR-VOTE.
  • Make a Plan: The best way to combat voter suppression is to have a solid voting plan! Use WCC’s Voting Plan (Interactive) to do this and encourage others to make them too. 

Expand Voting Access 

  • Join the Language Assistance Advisory Committee: The Civic Engagement Commission is looking for new members interested in the intersection of language access and civic engagement to help shape CEC programming. 
  • Get Out the Vote (GOTV): Help encourage others to vote. Here are some ways you can volunteer and advocate for candidates or issues you care about.
  • NYC Votes: Nonpartisan opportunities through NYC Votes – an initiative of an independent city agency called the NYC Campaign Finance Board.
  • Partisan and nonpartisan opportunities to volunteer and support certain candidates. (Note: Women Creating Change does not endorse any candidates.)

Advocate for Policy Change

  • Join WCC and sign up for our newsletter:
  • Engage with Let NY Vote: Text VoteNY to 97779 to get involved.
  • Sign petitions and get involved with Common Cause New York.
  • Vote, Stay Informed, and Share Information with Your Community.
  • Vote411 Election Information You Need  (League of Women Voters Education Fund): Check your voter registration, register to vote, and find what’s on your ballot including information on the candidates who are running for office. 
  • What Can My Elected Officials Do?: Explanations of the elected offices that affect New Yorkers.  


“Block the Vote: How Politicians Are Trying to Block Voters from the Ballot Box.” ACLU.

Klain, Hannah, Kevin Morris, Rebecca Ayala, and Max Feldman. “Waiting to Vote.” Brennan Center for Justice.

“Obstacles to Voting for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence.” American Progress.

Further Suggested Reading

What 100 Years of Women's Suffrage Means for Women of Color