10 Ways the U.S. Has Kept Citizens From Voting

In the post-Reconstruction South, the Ku Klux Klan used violence and killings to keep blacks from voting. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In the post-Civil War South, clandestine resistance groups — the Ku Klux Klan, the White League and the Knights of the White Camelia — organized to oppose the Reconstruction governments imposed by the victorious North. They targeted both white and black officials for assassination and used violence to intimidate freed blacks from exercising their right to vote. As historian David Blight has explained, the Klan would often take black people out of their cabins in the middle of the night, and whip them or burn parts of their bodies. This was to keep them from exercising their rights, including the right to vote [source: PBS].

This violence helped the southern wing of the Democratic Party, which back then was controlled by staunch white supremacists, to suppress black voter turnout and wrest control of state and local governments from the Republican Party. Gradually, the segregationists gained control of various states, starting with Tennessee in 1869. By 1877, another 10 states had switched to the Democrats. As a National Park Service history notes, determined black voters continued to show up at the polls, but their numbers dwindled.

In response, Congress passed legislation making it a federal crime to deprive citizens of voting rights, and more than 3,000 Klan members were indicted, though only 600 were convicted by Southern juries. But even after the Klan's ugly power was reduced, the new state governments simply enacted measures such as poll taxes to accomplish the same discrimination [source: NPS].