ELECTOR QUALIFICATIONS

It was the original constitutional scheme to vest the determination of qualifications for electors in congressional elections299 solely in the discretion of the states, save only for the express requirement that the states could prescribe no qualifications other than those provided for voters for the more numerous branch of the legislature.300 This language has never been expressly changed, but the discretion of the states—and not only with regard to the qualifications of congressional electors—has long been circumscribed by express constitutional limitations301 and by judicial decisions.302 Further, beyond the limitation of discretion on the part of the states, Congress has assumed the power, with judicial acquiescence, to legislate to provide qualifications at least with regard to some elections.303 Thus, in the Voting Rights Act of 1965304 Congress legislated changes of a limited nature in the literacy laws of some of the States,305 and in the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970306 Congress successfully lowered the minimum voting age in federal elections307 and prescribed residency qualifications for presidential elections,308 the Court striking down an attempt to lower the minimum voting age for all elections.309 These developments greatly limited the discretion granted in Article I, § 2, cl. 1, and are more fully dealt with in the treatment of § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Notwithstanding the vesting of discretion to prescribe voting qualifications in the states, conceptually the right to vote for United States Representatives is derived from the Federal Constitution,310 and Congress has had the power under Article I, § 4, to legislate to protect that right against both official311 and private denial.312

Footnotes

299
The clause refers only to elections to the House of Representatives, of course, and, inasmuch as Senators were originally chosen by state legislatures and presidential electors as the States would provide, it was only with the qualifications for these voters with which the Constitution was originally concerned. [Back to text]
300
Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 171 (1875); Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, 283 (1937). See 2 J. STORY, COMMENTARIES ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES 576–585 (1833). [Back to text]
301
The Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments limited the States in the setting of qualifications in terms of race, sex, payment of poll taxes, and age. [Back to text]
302
The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the equal protection clause has excluded certain qualifications. E.g., Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89 (1965); Kramer v. Union Free School Dist., 395 U.S. 621 (1969); City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204 (1970). The excluded qualifications were in regard to all elections. [Back to text]
303
The power has been held to exist under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966); Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970); City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156 (1980). [Back to text]
304
§ 4(e), 79 Stat. 437, 439, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(e), as amended. [Back to text]
305
Upheld in Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966). [Back to text]
306
Titles 2 and 3, 84 Stat. 314, 42 U.S.C. § 1973bb. [Back to text]
307
Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 119–131, 135–144, 239–281 (1970). [Back to text]
308
Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 134, 147–150, 236–239, 285–292 (1970). [Back to text]
309
Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 119–131, 152–213, 293–296 (1970). [Back to text]
310
“The right to vote for members of the Congress of the United States is not derived merely from the constitution and laws of the state in which they are chosen, but has its foundation in the Constitution of the United States.” Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 663 (1884). See also Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58, 62 (1900); Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U.S. 487, 492 (1902); United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 315, 321 (1941). [Back to text]
311
United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. 383 (1915). [Back to text]
312
United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 315 (1941). [Back to text]