The only constant in life is change, which is why paving the way for change and then embracing it is such a critical aspect of an effective government. The Constitution of the United States was designed to dictate the structure and operations of government. The system of checks and balances helps maintain a balance of power while the amendment and ratification process allows for evolution as needed over time. The right to vote has always been a part of the U.S. Constitution, but thanks to several amendments passed throughout the years, it has undergone significant changes on six different occasions.
The 12th Amendment
Ratified in 1804, the 12th Amendment changed the rules governing presidential elections. Prior to the amendment, the president and vice president were elected strictly through popular vote. The 12th Amendment recognized the existence of political parties and specified that from that point forward, the president and vice president elections would be determined by the electoral college rather than popular vote.
The electoral college is a group of electors from each state that is equal to the number of senators and congressmen for that state. This shift from a strictly popular vote to a vote by the electoral college meant that states with smaller populations would have an equal say in choosing a new president compared to states with much larger populations. The 12th Amendment makes it possible for a president to be elected without winning the popular vote.
The 15th Amendment
Ratified in 1870, the 15th Amendment was designed to protect U.S. citizens from being denied the right to vote based on race, color or former slave status. The amendment specified that all men over the age of 21 would be entitled to vote regardless of race or color. With slavery having been abolished only five years prior to its ratification, the 15th Amendment reflected the gradual integration of African-Americans into American society.
The 17th Amendment
Ratified in 1913, the 17th Amendment changed the way that senators are elected. Prior to the amendment, senators were elected by the legislature for each state. The 17th Amendment shifted the power to elect senators from the state legislature to the people. Senators are now elected by popular vote.
The 19th Amendment
Ratified in 1920, the 19th Amendment made voting available to women. Prior to the amendment, women were not able to vote in federal elections. Also known as the Women’s Suffrage Clause, the 19th Amendment guaranteed that women had just as much right to vote as their male counterparts did.
The 24th Amendment
Ratified in 1964, the 24th Amendment made it illegal to require voters to pay a poll tax. Prior to the amendment, black people and others of little means were excluded from casting votes because they did not have the money to pay for a poll tax. The 24th Amendment put an end to people being disenfranchised by a lack of money.
The 26th Amendment
Ratified in 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Prior to the amendment, 18-year-old Americans were being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War but did not have the right to vote. The 26th Amendment gave voting rights to any American citizen who was 18 years of age or older.