Tools of Voter Suppression: Past

Poll Tax Receipt

Poll Tax Receipt from Alabama; Source: Smithsonian

Throughout American history, people of underrepresented communities struggled to win the right to vote. Even when the legal right  to vote was won, restrictive laws, active opposition movements, and racially targeted policies inhibited communities of color from exercising their right to vote.

A brief sample of voter suppression faced by a number of groups is outlined below. Follow the ‘Read More’ link to learn more about the barriers faced by each community.

African Americans

Throughout the entire history of the United States, African Americans have faced continued and forceful efforts aimed at suppressing their right to vote. Ranging from election fraud and violent intimidation tactics to poll taxes and non-representative districting, there is a long pattern of suppressing the African American vote through many different approaches. Read More.

Latinx Populations

Many of the barriers to Latinx voting power centered around limitations to their organizing power as well as language accessibility. Early 20th-century organizing efforts allowed Latinxs to gain a more prominent voice in politics. However, it was not until the expansion to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 that states were required to provide voting information in non-English languages in order to serve local populations. Read More.


At the time of American Independence, women were often viewed in ways that devalued their civic participation, such as dependent on their husbands or weak-minded. Many states banned women from voting by law in the 19th century, and the 15th Amendment only extended the right to vote to African American men. These legal barriers limited women’s voting for decades. Read More.


Even after completing the difficult process to become citizens, immigrants faced additional hurdles in order to vote. Justified as an anti-fraud precautions, immigrants were forced to present naturalization papers at times. Residency requirements prevented some immigrants from voting based on how long they had been citizens. Read More.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the history of American Indian oppression reached to voting rights. Even after American Indians were recognized as “civil” enough to vote, tools of suppression persisted.  Similar to African American struggles, American Indians faced residency requirements, poll taxes and literacy tests, and continue to face challenges in voting. Read More.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

People with Disabilities

Many states restricted the right to vote for people with disabilities through inadequate methods. If a person was placed under guardianship or otherwise judged to be incompetent, their vote could be withheld with little chance to regain it. Read More.

White People

Although white people have historically faced fewer obstacles in accessing the right to vote, it was not always a welcoming process. Originally, even white males could not vote unless they also owned property. In addition, many white immigrant populations were treated poorly and struggled to overcome societal barriers in the U.S. Read More.