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

Making It Difficult to Register or Vote
A man votes in Chicago in 1906, using a lever. In the North at that time, officials sought to keep immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities from voting, often by changing registration dates or demanding they show original naturalization papers. Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Southern states came up with other tricks to make it difficult to register to vote. They required frequent re-registration as well as street addresses with names and numbers, which many rural African-Americans didn't have. Even when a black voter could meet those requirements, they often invented some other technicality to disqualify the voter anyway. A black janitor named Jackson Giles was brave enough to file a lawsuit challenging such practices in Alabama, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his claim in a convoluted 1903 decision [source: University of Michigan].

It wasn't just Southern Democrats who wanted to prevent people from voting. In the North and West in the late 1800s and early 1900s, officials sought to keep immigrants who were flooding into the U.S. and ethnic and religious minorities from participating in the electoral process. In California and New Jersey, for example, officials made it tougher for immigrants to vote by requiring them to present their original naturalization papers at polling places.

In other places, authorities used the clock to winnow the turnout. They closed polling places and registration offices early, so that industrial workers who commonly worked 10-hour shifts in those days wouldn't be able to make it in time. In New York, officials came up with an even more discriminatory policy to prevent participation by Jews, many of whom were socialists. They simply designated Saturdays and Yom Kippur, a high holy day, as registration times [source: Keyssar].