5.1 Voting Rights and Models of Voting Behaviour

7 min readjanuary 29, 2023



AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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Voting Rights Protections

Per the Constitution, the individual states have the power to determine qualifications for voting and managing elections. Unfortunately, this left many Americans—especially women, Black Americans, and immigrants—out of the political process. Many southern states took advantage of these powers to deliberately prevent former slaves from voting by passing laws that kept them from the polls. Literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and white primaries were all used to limit the political power of black Americans by restricting them from voting.
When the U.S. Constitution was first adopted, only property-owning white men could vote. Some accounts suggest that these represented just 3% of the population. Over time, suffrage was granted to nearly all Americans through the passage of laws and various Constitutional amendments:

Fifteenth Amendment (1870)

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870. It prohibited the federal government and state governments from denying a man the right to vote based on his "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (i.e., whether they were formerly enslaved).
This amendment was a response to the widespread discrimination and disenfranchisement of Black citizens in the South following the Civil War. The Fifteenth Amendment was intended to ensure that Black men would have the same right to vote as white men. Note that women were still not included.

Seventeenth Amendment (1913)

The Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on April 8, 1913. It established the direct election of United States Senators by the people of each state, rather than their being elected by the state legislature as outlined in the original Constitution. This change was driven by a desire for greater accountability and representation of the people in the federal government.
Prior to the amendment, state legislatures had the power to elect senators, which led to concerns that state legislators would be more responsive to their own interests than those of their constituents. The amendment was also a response to the perception that the state legislatures were corrupt, and that the Senate was not sufficiently representative of the people. The direct election of Senators was seen as a way to increase the responsiveness and accountability of the Senate to the people. Note that women were still not included.

Nineteenth Amendment (1920)

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. It prohibited the federal government and state governments from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. This amendment was the result of decades of activism by suffragists who sought to secure the right to vote for women.
The suffrage movement began in the mid-19th century, and it was led by women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others. They were met with resistance and were often arrested and mistreated while trying to vote. The movement gained momentum in the early 20th century, with the passage of the amendment being seen as a long-overdue step towards achieving equal rights for women.

Twenty-Third Amendment (1961)

Although not outlined in the Course Exam & Description, this is an important amendment you can use to back your claims in free-response questions. The Twenty-Third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on March 29, 1961. It granted citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections, as D.C. residents were not represented in the electoral college, despite being under federal jurisdiction.
Prior to the amendment, residents of the District of Columbia were not able to vote in presidential elections, despite paying federal taxes and being subject to federal laws. This led to a sense of disenfranchisement among D.C. residents and calls for representation and equal voting rights. The movement for D.C. voting rights grew in the 1950s and 1960s, with the amendment being seen as a necessary step towards ensuring that all American citizens had an equal right to participate in the political process.

Twenty-Fourth Amendment (1964)

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on January 23, 1964. It prohibits both Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of tax. The amendment was a response to the discriminatory practices that had been used in some states, particularly in the South, to prevent poor and minority citizens from voting.
The poll tax, which required citizens to pay a fee in order to vote, was seen as a way to discriminate against poor people, particularly poor Black citizens, who were less likely to be able to afford the tax. The amendment was passed as part of the broader Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which aimed to secure equal rights and protections for all citizens, regardless of their race or economic status.

Voting Rights Act (1965)

The protections under the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were not enough to fully integrate various groups into the country's politics. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, led by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., brought attention to the issue of voting rights and the need to end discriminatory practices. The movement employed a variety of tactics, such as peaceful protests and voter registration drives, to bring attention to the issue and pressure the government to act.
The Kennedy and Johnson administrations pushed for the legislation, and in 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act ✊🏾 with strong bipartisan support. It expanded political power to groups that had historically been excluded from the political process.
The law targeted states (mostly in the South) that had established unfair policies that previously disenfranchised Black voters. Specifically, the law eliminated racist literacy tests and allowed the federal government to closely monitor states that continued to have low voter turnout among underrepresented groups.

Twenty-Sixth Amendment (1971)

During the Vietnam War, many young men were drafted and sent to fight in the war at the age of 18, yet they were not allowed to vote. This led to a sense of injustice and calls for the voting age to be lowered to match the age of military conscription.
The movement for a lower voting age was also driven by the belief that young people, who were being affected by the decisions made by politicians, should have a say in who those politicians were and what policies they implemented.
Subsequently, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on July 1, 1971. It lowered the voting age for all federal and state elections from 21 to 18 years old. The amendment was a response to the growing momentum of the youth rights movement of the 1960s, which sought to extend political and legal rights to young people.

Overview of Suffrage Expansion

15th (1870)Voting rights for black American men
17th (1913)Popular elections (not state lawmakers) to choose Senators
19th (1920)Voting rights for women
23rd (1961)Residents of Washington, DC can vote
24th (1964)Outlawed poll taxes as a voting requirement
26th (1971)Voting rights for 18-year-olds

Models of Voting Behavior

Political scientists have developed models in an attempt to better understand voting behaviors. 

Rational-choice voting

It occurs when a voter supports a candidate who they believe will benefit their personal interests. This can include factors such as a candidate's policy positions, their likelihood of winning, and the perceived efficacy of the voting process. Voters vote if they believe that their vote will make a difference in the outcome of an election and that the benefits of voting outweigh the costs (such as the time and effort required to vote). Young adults supporting progressive candidates who argue in favor of free college tuition is a great example of rational-choice voting. 

Retrospective voting 

It involves voters analyzing the track records of candidates in determining their vote. Retrospective voting can be seen as a form of accountability, where voters hold the incumbent party or candidate responsible for the performance of the government. If the government has performed well, voters may be more likely to vote for the incumbent party or candidate, as they believe that their policies and actions have led to positive outcomes.
On the other hand, if the government has performed poorly, voters may be more likely to vote for the opposition party or candidate, as they believe that a change in government is needed to improve performance. Incumbent presidents seeking reelection during an economic downturn would likely lose support from these types of voters. 

Prospective voting 

It is future-oriented, as voters base their decisions on promises made by candidates during the election cycle. This voting focuses on what the candidates or parties will do if they are elected, rather than what they have done in the past. It is often used in elections where the main concern of voters is the direction the country or state is heading and what the candidates or parties will do to address future problems or challenges.
In the 2020 presidential election, Democratic candidate Joe Biden consistently communicated that he would have a detailed plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and was elected in part due to these promises. 

Party-line voting 

Party-line voting refers to the practice of voters supporting candidates or parties based solely on their affiliation with a particular political party. It is utilized by a large number of voters. Party-line voters will typically vote for candidates from their preferred party—usually Democrat 🟦 or Republican 🟥—regardless of the candidate or party's policies, qualifications, or performance. . Many party-line voters will engage in straight-ticket voting during general elections, voting for candidates at various levels of government solely based on their party identification.

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