Question regarding Section 2 of the 14th Amendment. Voting Rights

What hindered Black citizens from being able to vote based on Section. 2 of the 14th Amendment ( which guaranteed all citizens 21 or over, no matter their race, the right to vote?) prior to the ratificatio of the 15th Amendment? How were states legally able to discriminate against Black citizsens even though the 14th Amendment already guaranted it?

The 14th Amendment granted citizenship. But that’s not enough, because citizens can be denied the right to vote. Women are citizens, too, but it wasn’t until decades later that they got the right to vote. Children are also citizens, and even today still can’t vote. Similarly, in states which (prior to the 15th amendment) prohibited blacks from voting, blacks became citizens with the 14th but couldn’t vote.

Was it simply the case that under the 14th amendment the federal government could not enforce the recognition of universal male suffrage by all states?

Section Two of the 14th Amendment repealed the three-fifths clause (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) of the original Constitution, which counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning congressional representation. With slavery outlawed by the 13th Amendment, this clarified that all residents, regardless of race, should be counted as one whole person. This section also guaranteed that all male citizens over age 21, no matter their race, had a right to vote.

Not completely.

It provided a penalty, yes, but it didn’t go as far as you said.

Note, too, that the 15th amendment prevented the fact that somebody had been a slave as a reason to deny them the vote. And also applied to race and color, so it was more expansive than merely giving black people the right to vote.

Citizenship and suffrage are not, as Chronos pointed out, the same thing. In fact, the Constitution went through some weird gymnastics to NOT guarantee suffrage to all citizens. Check out Article I Section 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

(In other words, if you were eligible to vote for your state representative, you were eligible to vote for your U.S. representative. But there’s nothing that says who was or was not eligible to vote for state representative.)

That’s why we needed a 15th Amendment to spell things out. And even then, states found ways to wiggle out of universal male suffrage with things like literacy tests, poll taxes, etc.

Thanks Moriarty. That makes sense.

I recently watched a lecture series (Yale Courses on YouTube) by a noted historian of the period leading up to and following the Civil War. One of the points he mentioned about the 15th amendment was that the Republicans drafting it considered making it more expansive, basically stating explicitly something along the lines of “all (male) citizens over the age of 21 shall have the right to vote,” full stop, but went with what we actually got about not denying the right to vote based on race/prior condition of servitude because they figured that would be a bridge too far. But they clearly understood, in the drafting, that they were leaving plenty of room for states to come up with ways to circumvent the voting rights of former slaves and other people of color, and just did not have the will to forestall such an eventuality with stronger language. They were already experiencing significant blowback from the 14th amendment and reconstruction efforts. Politics.

Anyway, point being, the allowance left for states to creatively deny the right to vote to people of color was a feature, not a bug. One that I wish we would rectify.

So based on that amendment, do census numbers for the purpose of allocating congressional seats in some states subtract the number of convicted felons who are not eligible to vote in that state?

I presume nowadays the “male” condition is overridden? Do they include underage non-voting children in those census numbers for allocating seats?

No. That provision of the Constitution has never been enforced. Even when most Blacks were denied the right to vote in many states. But for felons, the Constitution allows for them to be denied voting privileges and not have their state’s representation reduced. It’s in the 14th Amendment section that Moriarty quoted above.

Overridden by a later amendment (19th). They go by the entire Census, children (and non-citizens) too, when allocating Congrssional seats. It’s unlikely there’s any part of the country that has an unusually high children:adult ratio, so it should all average out.

AH, I see - I misread that. The reduction applies except for rebellion and felons.


The most important way that blacks were denied the right to vote is that any who did were in serious danger of being lynched. At least, that was what I was taught in 11th grade history. The other thing was “literacy” tests that unfairly administered. Blacks, even college graduates, had no chance of passing. Nowadays, an all-too-common technique is simply not providing enough voting places in black neighborhoods. A friend of mine who lived in Ohio, claimed that the 2000 election was stolen there when a large number of voting machines were moved from Cleveland to rural areas, where they were not needed, right before the election and some people in Cleveland had to stand in line till midnight to vote and many just left without being able to vote.

This I do NOT understand. Here in Canada, I think the longest I’ve seen people wait to vote is 20 to 30 minutes and this was only because of COVID restrictions. Normally you form a line at the table for your polling district, which might encompass about 5 blocks - for COVID, they held up the line at the door (spaced out) so that there was one person or household at each table. Before last year, the most I’ve ever waited was 15 minutes, at a very busy time; usually in and out in a few minutes.

OTOH, the 1619 Project mentions a lot of suppression techniques - one fellow was gunned down and his assets stolen simply for running a successful enterprise, taking black people’s business from white merchants. The Tulsa massacre is another example. Do you think there was any reticence about “suggesting” black people not vote?

US white supremacy depended upon many different techniques to maintain its power over blacks. Many times, simple coercive force was used, lynching the most visible and well-known. These were typically employed by the hardest core of racists - dare I call them the deplorables? - and had the added effect of terrorizing the populace who might get too “uppity” and desiring to change the racial status quo.

But overuse of such methods would cause a great deal of cognitive dissonance in the minds of the larger mass of people who adhered to the ideas of racial supremacy, but didn’t like the coercive implementation of the deplorables and thought of themselves as nonracist (after all, they weren’t deplorable!)

Those folks relied on distinctively American myths, like meritocracy, rule of law and bootstrapping, to justify in their minds why blacks did not have the vote - “they simply didn’t want it enough, considering that the literacy test was never an issue for me!” or perhaps “they’re not organized enough to be good voters!” Justifying it by criteria not racist on their face allowed this class to maintain the illusion for themselves that they were part of a country “with liberty and justice for all” when the details simply wouldn’t allow an entire race that kind of liberty and justice.

So white supremacy in the US required this cognitive dissonance to be preserved. When fire hoses, attack dogs and Bull Connor - the tactics of the deplorables - hit the evening news on a regular basis, it started eroding the “nonracist” white supremacy of the greater numbers of people.

We see some of the same effect with viral videos these days, from Rodney King to George Floyd and others. But white supremacy in America knows to emphasize those tactics more acceptable to the larger numbers, because the political power of white supremacy depends upon not the racists but the “nonracists”.

I think it’s because in Canada, all of the parties want people to vote.

That’s been my experience voting in Canada, but the facts are that one of the methods used to prevent blacks voting is restricting the number of voting stations, putting them in an out of the way places and now, in Georgia, making it a criminal offense to offer water or food to someone waiting in an interminable line.

This is also true for me an American, but then I’ve only lived in Democratic areas and they seem to want everyone to vote if possible.

However, I think another reason is voting is simpler in Canada, I believe. Don’t you only vote for one person for the federal government and one for the provincial legislature. (Maybe local as well, but here local voting takes place at a different time).

Here when I go to vote, I vote for Pres/VP, a federal representative, a Senator. Plus the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, a state representative, a state senator, the registrar of voters. And I’ve probably forgotten some. Even if you know who you want to vote for, just marking the ballot takes a bit of time.

Not all of those every time, but there might also be ballot measures. There were 12 ballot measures on the ballot in California, for example.

That’s true, and provincial and federal elections aren’t held at the same time. Just one ballot, needing only one “X” and you’re done.

Another huge difference is that the elections are organized by the elections commission (either federal or provincial), not at a municipal level, and the commissions are non-partisan. Elections officials are never elected positions.

Yes, the joke in Canada is that the American also vote for who gets to be the dogcatcher.

I’ve never understood voting for Judges. Plus the Americans found very early in their federal elections that voting for prez and VP separately was a recipe for problems.

We still technically do – that is the Electoral College votes separately instead of the VP being the runner up as it started. But for some reason in Connecticut we still vote for governor and lieutenant governor separately and from 2004-7 we had a republican governor and democratic Lt governor.