The ability to vote for government officials and to approve or disapprove tax levies has been expanded steadily in America from its earliest days. In colonial days, the right to vote was limited to landowners. Particularly in the southern colonies, even some landowners with small parcels were excluded. The governing idea was that big landowners bore most of the expense of running the government and deserved to have the say in how their money was spent. In those early days, women generally could not vote, but this was in keeping with the notion that votes represented tax-paying units instead of individuals and was not merely discrimination against women as a class. In some jurisdictions, women who held title to property were granted full civil rights including the right to vote. The Revolutionary War led to a new notion in granting voting rights. Property-less war veterans began to ask why they should be excluded from voting merely because they were not landowners. They had risked life and limb for their country, and wanted a voice in how it was run. Their argument won the day, and military veterans joined the voting population. It was not long before the general population of men was considered for voting privileges. Pioneer settlers in the Midwest were more liberal in allowing any man to vote regardless of his land holdings. This attitude spread eastward, and the requirement that voters be landholders was replaced everywhere by 1856. Many areas required voters to be tax payers, but the tax was small and could usually be paid at the polling place (a “poll tax”). Women joined the ranks of voters, at first in Wyoming Territory in the election of 1870. All of the western states followed Wyoming’s example, except for New Mexico. Women won the right to vote for candidates for federal office in 1920. In 1964, the poll tax requirement was removed from voters in federal elections by constitutional amendment.

Comments are closed.