President Joe Biden this week backed a limited exception to the Senate filibuster to pass voting rights legislation, including two bills that have stalled in the upper chamber.
“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history,” Biden said during remarks in Atlanta. “The issue is, will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice? I know where I stand.”
But when were different groups of Americans able to vote in the United States? When were they promised voting rights, and when were those promises kept or broken?
Here’s what you need to know about when various Americans could access the voting booth.
When could Black people vote in the US?
In 1870, the 15th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, promising 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.”
The amendment could have granted Black men across the U.S. the right to vote. But many states implemented literacy tests, poll taxes and other roadblocks, ensuring that they were not granted their full voting rights.
The amendment meant that a state’s constitution “which usually involved language to the effect that all free white men over the age of 21 could vote, that the ‘white’ was no longer legally enforceable,” David Bateman, an associate professor in the department of government and the Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University, told USA TODAY.
But Matthew Dallek, a professor of political management at George Washington University, explained “there were also plenty of extra-legal ways in which the franchise was denied,” including violence and intimidation tactics.
“African Americans knew that they could face violent reprisals if they went and tried to vote,” Dallek told USA TODAY.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act prohibited states from using literacy tests and provided sweeping voting protections.
However, the Voting Rights Act did not mark the end of voting rights efforts in the U.S., with activists continuing to call on lawmakers to expand voting protections. The Voting Rights Act also has seen broad changes, including the Supreme Court striking down some key provisions.
When could women vote in the US?
The 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920. It vows 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 sex.”
But in practice, the 19th amendment didn’t apply equally to all women. Laws across the country still blocked women of color from voting, and they continued to face intimidation tactics.
Dallek noted that there were parts of the country where women had the right to vote before the 19th amendment, but the amendment’s impact was mostly “restricted to white women.”
“It did not necessarily change the political dynamic in the country,” he said.
“Relatively few African American women are going to be able, after the 19th Amendment, to go and cast a vote as a result of it,” Bateman added.
“Because most of them are going to be living in the South, and the South has a set of sort of interlocking, disenfranchising mechanisms,” he said.
The Voting Right Act of 1965 made significant strides to protect some women of color, and Congress in 1975 extended the legislation and included provisions that applied to additional groups of women.
When could Native Americans vote in the US?
The Snyder Act of 1924 “admitted Native Americans born in the U.S. to full U.S. citizenship,” according to the Library of Congress.
But the Constitution still allowed states to decide who could vote, and it took more than 40 years for every state to allow Indigenous people to cast their ballots.
The additional provisions to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 helped people who spoke Native languages vote in the U.S.
Today, Native American groups are still pushing for voting rights and access. Indigenous people living on reservations often face additional challenges to accessing the ballot box.
What about other groups?
Other groups of Americans have also faced barriers to voting.
Asian populations across the country were denied citizenship and voting rights in the U.S. for swaths of American history. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 lifted restrictions on Asian immigrants becoming naturalized citizens.
Asian American communities saw greater voting access following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the provisions added to the legislation protecting “language minorities.”
Additionally, Bateman explained that “there had been widespread practices of disenfranchisement” that “disproportionately impacted Latinos,” in the U.S. Those included barriers like poll taxes, literacy tests and more.
But when former President Gerald Ford signed the extension to the Voting Rights Act in 1975, it provided protections for “language minorities,” a move hailed by Latino civil rights groups, NBC News reported.
Bateman noted that some groups of Latinos in the U.S. have previously been “legally understood” as white, but they were still “being disenfranchised as a language community, so there were new provisions to protect them.”
In 1971, the U.S. ratified the 26th amendment to the Constitution, allowing all citizens ages 18 and older to vote from coast to coast.