A typical depiction of elections in the United States follows a basic structure: voters travel to a polling place on Election Day, casting a paper or electronic ballot and receiving an “I Voted” sticker on their way out. This method of voting is still alive and well, but there have been many policy reforms over recent decades aimed at modifying the voting process, ranging from how people register to when voting occurs.
Access to voting has become a focus of voting rights advocates, many of whom are pushing for easier methods of voting in order to most effectively reach voters and boost turnout. The programs discussed here are part of the ongoing effort to enfranchise more people and expand access to voting that has been fought for since the beginning of the nation.
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Setting the Stage
As seen throughout this website, the history of voting rights is intertwined with individual and community struggles. Slowly but surely, access to voting has been expanded in the United States from its narrow start as a right only enjoyed by those who were white males who owned land and were at least 21 years of age.
In the subsequent centuries, the right to vote has been extended to citizens of all genders and all races who are at least 18 years olds. However, there are still inequities between communities and barriers to voting that disproportionately affect minority populations, the economically disadvantaged as well as the youngest and oldest voters.
The landscape of voting access today is a patchwork of programs and systems primarily based on state laws. Innovative programs pioneered by individual states have been adopted by others to increase access to the polls.
The expansion of access has been met with pushback in some places, and many states still have a long way to go in order to fully embrace the idea of voting accessibility. Some of the more popular programs and proposals currently affecting access are outlined on the next page.