Section 15: Suffrage After 1920

Though the 19th Amendment marked a major victory in opening up voting rights for women, it was not a complete victory. For example, while women were fighting for the legal right to vote, Black men continued to have their enfranchisement challenged by “Jim Crow” laws. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other voter suppression tactics kept Black voters from registering, thereby hindering their political power at local, state, and national levels. Under the 19th Amendment, these hindrances now also applied to non-white women. 

Moreover, the 19th Amendment was not universal in its scope. United States citizens with Asian ancestry, including women, were not allowed to vote until 1952 with the passage of  McCarran Walter Act. In theory, Native American women received the right to vote after the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted US citizenship to Indigenous Peoples. However, the act also turned over the rights and logistics of voting to the states, which in practice, restricted the vote of Native Americans living on US territories until 1948. Even then, Utah and North Dakota forbade on-reservation voting until 1957 and 1958, respectively. And it was not until 1975 that the Voting Rights Act identified Alaska, Arizona, and parts of South Dakota as places that discriminated against Native Americans through ballot language. According to recent an article by the American Bar Association, obstacles remain for Native American enfranchisement, including forcing tribal members to travel extreme distances (80-100 miles) to cast their vote; the “prevalence of these barriers undermines our democracy and contributes to low voter participation among Native Americans.”

While Native Americans in Tennessee received the right to vote in 1924, the story of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in Western North Carolina is more complex. Prior to World War I, Cherokee citizenship had not been fully resolved, despite the fact that 70 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee joined the US Armed Forces (321st Infantry Regiment). On November 16, 1919, the US Congress passed the Citizenship Act, which conferred citizenship upon World War I veterans of Native American descent. But even with the added support of the Indian Citizenship Act five years later, many Cherokee still had difficulty voting. In 1930, Henry Owl, a US Army veteran with a Masters degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was turned away from voting in Swain County, North Carolina, because the poll worker viewed Owl as “a ward of the US government” with no standing to cast a ballot. Owl submitted his account to the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs which worked to correct the situation. Congress passed an act on June 19, 1930, which conferred “full rights of citizenship upon the Cherokee Indians resident in the state of North Carolina,” but it was not until after Cherokee veterans returned home from World War II that things really changed. In 1946, 300 veterans were refused registration, and Steve Youngdeer, head of the American Legion in Cherokee, North Carolina, filed a complaint with the Department of Justice and the state election board. That October, the Cherokee people were allowed to fully register and vote in North Carolina for the first time.