Obstacles to Voting

Despite the expansion of the franchise, obstacles to voting remained, particularly for African Americans. With the power to set registration procedures, states found it relatively easy to deny African Americans the right to vote in spite of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Poll taxes

Southern states charged a fee before a person could vote, and a few added the unpaid fees from one election to another. This practice effectively disenfranchised poor African Americans and whites. The poll tax was finally abolished in 1964 through the Twenty-fourth Amendment.

Literacy tests

Again in the Southern states, literacy tests were used to restrict applicants. The usual practice was to require an African American to explain some complex part of the Constitution, while whites were given an easier passage to read and explain.

Good-character tests

Prospective African-American voters in the South had to provide an endorsement of their "good character" from two or more registered voters.

Grandfather clause

In order to register, an applicant had to prove that is or her father or grandfather had voted. Because the fathers and grandfathers of African Americans in the South had been slaves and obviously had not voted, such applicants were rejected.

Residency requirements

Voters would have to live in a community for a certain length of time before they could vote there. In the Southern states, this was a burden to many rural blacks because they moved from job to job as farm laborers.

Other restrictions to voting

Although all the limitations on African Americans' voting have been abolished, they were not the only group affected by restrictions. Native Americans became eligible to vote in 1924 when they were made citizens of the United States by an act of Congress. It was not until 1952 that Congress overturned 19th-century laws that had denied citizenship to Asian immigrants.

Even today, voter registration requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, for some people to vote. In order to register, an applicant must have a permanent address, which the homeless do not have. Thousands of college students who go away to school can vote only "back home" through an absentee ballot. Many Americans find voting a chore because they move homes rapidly, and renewing their voter registration in the new locale is not a high priority.