When the next general election rolls around, who will be eligible to show up at the polls and vote for the President of the United States? It’s really pretty simple. If you are at least 18 years old, a citizen of the U.S., and a resident of a state, you can vote, assuming, that is, you are not a felon. Seems about right. After all, the United States prides itself on being a democracy, or a government in which the ultimate authority lies with the citizens of the nation. But it was not always this way. In 1789, George Washington won the electoral college with 100% of the vote, but whose vote was it? Probably not yours. Only 6% of the entire United States population was allowed to vote at all. Voting was a right that only white, male property owners were allowed to exercise. By the 1820s and 1830s, the American population was booming from the east coast into the western frontier. Frontier farmers were resilient, self-reliant, and mostly ineligible to vote because they did not own land. As these new areas of the nation became states, they typically left out the property requirement for voting. Leaders such as Andrew Jackson, the United State’s first common man President, promoted what he called universal suffrage. Of course, by universal suffrage, Jackson really meant universal white, male suffrage. All he emphasized was getting rid of the property requirement for voting, not expanding the vote beyond white men. By the 1850s, about 55% of the adult population was eligible to vote in the U.S., much better than 6%, but far from everybody. Then, in 1861, the American Civil War began largely over the issue of slavery and states’ rights in the United States. When it was all over, the U.S. ratified the 15th Amendment, which promised that a person’s right to vote could not be denied based on race, color, or previous condition as a slave. This meant that black men, newly affirmed as citizens of the U.S., would now be allowed to vote. Of course, laws are far from reality. Despite the promise of the 15th Amendment, intimidation kept African-Americans from exercising their voting rights. States passed laws that limited the rights of African-Americans to vote, including things like literacy tests, which were rigged so that not even literate African-Americans were allowed to pass, and poll taxes. So, despite the 15th Amendment, by 1892, only about 6% of black men in Mississippi were registered to vote. By 1960, it was only 1%. And, of course, women were still totally out of the national voting picture. It wasn’t until 1920 that the women’s suffrage movement won their 30-year battle, and the 19th Amendment finally gave women the vote, well, white women. The restrictions on African-Americans, including African-American women, remained. After World War II, many Americans began to question the state of U.S. democracy. How could a nation that fought for freedom and human rights abroad come home and deny suffrage based on race? The modern civil rights movement began in the 1940s with those questions in mind. After years of sacrifice, bloodshed, and pain, the United States passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally eliminating restrictions such as literacy tests and protecting the voting rights promised under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Now, any citizen over the age of 21 could vote. All seemed well until the United States went to war. When the Vietnam War called up all men age 18 and over for the draft, many wondered whether it was fair to send men who couldn’t vote to war. In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution made all citizens 18 and older eligible to vote, the last major expansion of voting rights in the United States. Today, the pool of eligible voters in the U.S. is far broader and more inclusive than ever before in U.S. history. But, of course, it’s not perfect. There are still active efforts to suppress some groups from voting, and only about 60% of those who can vote do. Now that you know all the hard work that went into securing the right to vote, what do you think? Do enough citizens have the right to vote now? And among those who can vote, why don’t more of them do it?