Even though it’s a cornerstone of representative democracy in U.S. politics, the right to vote expanded very slowly—and not without a fight in most cases. Today, voting is still contested, as some states have limited the franchise through redistricting, closing polling places, requiring official ID to vote, and other means.

Every time we get ready for an election, voting is on our minds. But those thoughts can be vague and lack historical and political context. With this syllabus, we hope to provide motivation to learn more—and to turn out!

Fighting for the Right to Vote

It took a Civil War for Black men to get the right to vote. Millions were enfranchised when women got the vote in 1920, but Black women were mostly excluded from voting due to legal discrimination. Removing these injustices took both organizing and militance.

The Voting Rights Act at 50

Passage of the act was paved by the sacrifices of Civil Rights activists, especially those who had recently put their bodies on the line at Selma, Alabama.
Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony on Her Revolutionary Foremothers

Susan B. Anthony discusses how women's rights have evolved in a 1902 North American Review piece, "Woman's Half-Century of Evolution." 
Victoria Woodhull

Free Love and the First Female Presidential Nominee

Victoria Woodhull who was known to her enemies as "Mrs. Satan," was the first woman to run for president of the United States.
Shirley Chisholm and Rosa Parks

The Significance of Shirley Chisholm’s Presidential Campaign

Shirley Chisholm: the first black female U.S. Representative, first black major-party candidate for President, and the first Democratic Party woman to run.
Women line up to vote in a municipal election, Boston, Massachusetts, December 11, 1888.

New Jersey Let (Some) Women Vote from 1776 to 1807

Historians Judith Apter Klinghoffer and Lois Elkis argue that this wasn't oversight. New Jersey legislators knew exactly what they were doing.
Reconstruction Richmond

Revisiting Reconstruction

Reconstruction is one of the least-known periods of American history, and much of what people think they know about it may be wrong.

Race Has Always Affected the Vote

While racism in the United States is often attributed to poor whites, research suggests its political power resides in middle and wealthy suburban whites.
Suffragette posters

How Women’s Suffrage Has Been Represented in American Film

Women's suffrage was usually portrayed negatively in early films, but suffragists well recognized the importance of movies in getting their message out.

Who Are Voters?

Political scientists puzzle over the question for good reason: understanding voters, and voting, provides the kind of knowledge that can help citizens access the polls and exercise the kind of power that voting gives them.

"I Voted" stickers

How to Get People to Vote

In United States midterm elections, it is common for as few as 40% of eligible adults to vote. Why it matters, and some possible solutions.
voter fraud

Creating the Voter Fraud Myth

Although in-person voter fraud is close to nonexistent, it’s a big concern for many voters.
Portrait young couple at voter polling place

The Case for Lowering the Voting Age

If the standard we hold for who can vote is the consent of the governed, why shouldn’t children be included?
Voting stickers on a table

Would Formerly Incarcerated People Vote Democratic?

Conventional wisdom says that Republicans don't want to give ex-felons voting rights because they'll end up voting for Democrats. But is this true?
Man inside a voting booth.

How Class Conflicts Determine Voter Turnout

Studying voting data from 1840 to the 1990s, a correlation emerges between voter turnout and class conflicts throughout the country.
Independent voters

Who Are the Independent Voters?

The voting patterns of actual independents have long been a topic of study. Who are they, and how do they actually vote?
Larry Lessig

Lawrence Lessig: How to Repair Our Democracy

Law professor and one-time presidential hopeful Lawrence Lessig on campaign finance, gerrymandering, and the electoral college.

Elections and Power

Voting and governing are different things, but both entail power. Our election system reflects that, but elections themselves can be convoluted processes in themselves.

Constitutional Convention, 1787

Electoral College 101

They don't campaign and very few know who they are, but you'll be voting for them this November: introducing the Electors. Again.
2012 Cartogram

Time for Reform of the Electoral College?

Is it finally time to reform the Electoral College after 2000 and 2016? If so, how could this be done?
Gerrymandering origins

Is Gerrymandering to Blame for Our Polarized Politics?

Gerrymandering is the process by which districts for the House of Representatives are drawn so that one party has a distinct election advantage.
An illustration of hands around a ballot box

Enfranchisement Is the Only Route to Security

In our final security studies column, our columnist posits that security as a permanent mode of government is actually making Americans less secure.
Andrew Jackson

Why Do They Build Party Platforms, Anyway?

What is the point of the party platforms unveiled at political conventions? 
A town hall event in Iowa.

Just How Unrepresentative Are the Iowa Caucuses?

There's no denying the whiteness of the state. But scholars cite other qualities that make Iowa more like the rest of the country.
Presidents Tyler, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Ford

The Accidental Presidents of the United States

How "accidental" world leaders have faced the challenges of leading major democracies without being voted in.
Newt Gingrich Bill Clinton

The Midterms That Changed America

In 1994, Republicans swept the midterms and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House. His “Contract with America” was both polarizing and transformative.

PSY-Q: “It’s the psychology, stupid.” What really decides elections?

The "rational choice" model alone doesn't account for voting behavior. So what does?
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