Arlington citizens lined up to vote at fire stations in Arlington, 1944 (Both photos courtesy Library of Congress)

Many Americans have had to fight to get to vote.

The 15th Constitutional Amendment adopted in 1870 granted all men regardless of race or color the right to vote. But by 1890 discriminatory practices were increasingly used to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote, especially in the South.

Virginia and several other southern states levied poll taxes as a legal means of keeping African Americans from voting. Poll taxes were essentially a voting fee that African Americans were required to pay before they could cast a ballot. The tax was accumulative, so voters could not skip a year and hope to vote the next unless they paid their back taxes.

Enshrined in the original 1902 Virginia constitution, the poll tax also disenfranchised poor white voters. A “Grandfather clause” allowed those whose fathers or grandfathers had been allowed to vote before the Civil War to avoid the poll tax, a loophole that did not apply to black voters.

(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Voting Booklet, Courtesy Center for Local History, Arlington Public Library)

This poll tax flyer below was distributed in African American neighborhoods in Arlington by the League of Women Voters of Arlington County to let voters know about the poll tax before they went to the polls so they would know to pay them in advance. The fees seem tiny by today’s standards, but the average black worker took home just $9 a day in 1960, regardless of family size so these costs represented a large percentage of their income. 

(Courtesy Center for Local History, Arlington Public Library)

The Twentieth-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1964, bans the poll tax. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed other barriers such as “literacy tests” at the state and local levels if they denied any Americans the right to vote under the 15th Amendment.

Women were not always allowed to vote either. These women suffragists were in front of the White House protesting for the right to vote in 1917. A Constitutional Amendment passed in August of 1920 which allowed women to vote.

(Courtesy Library of Congress)

Don’t Take This Important Right for Granted

Here’s why, from an NAACP voting booklet:

(Courtesy Center for Local History, Arlington Public Library)

Make Your Voice Heard: VOTE!

You can vote via the Postal Service:

“Green Valley News” clipping, ca. 1965 (Courtesy Center for Local History, Arlington Public Library)

Or you can vote in person, like Mrs. Louise A. Boetler (shown below) did in 1950.

(“The Evening Star,” August 1, 1950, p. A-5)

In the 2020 elections, you can vote early in-person in Arlington.

Or you can vote in-person on the day of the election, Tuesday November 3, 2020. Arlington County offers a website where you can find your polling place:

We want everyone to be able to say: