Suffrage after 1920

Though the 19th Amendment marked a major victory in opening voting rights for women it was perhaps the complete victory. Methods of voter suppression continued well into the 20th century and the same restrictions that hindered the ability of non-white men to vote now also applied to non-white women. Moreover, the 19th was not universal in its scope. For instance, it wasn’t until the passing of the McCarran Walter Act in 1952 that all Americans with Asian ancestry (including women) were allowed to vote. Native American women received the right vote (in theory) after the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted US citizenship to the indigenous peoples of the United States but turned over the rights and logistics of voting to the states. As a result, Native Americans living on US territory didn’t get full voting rights until 1948. Even so Utah and North Dakota remained the last states to allow on-reservation Native Americans the right to vote in 1957 and 1958. However, it was not until 1975 that the Voting Rights Act was amended with changes that mentioned Alaska, Arizona and parts of South Dakota as places that discriminated against Native Americans through ballot language. According to an article in the American Bar Association, there remain obstacles such as forcing Native Americans to travel extreme distances ( 80-100 miles) to cast their vote and that the “prevalence of these barriers undermines our democracy and contributes to low voter participation among Native Americans”.

While Native Americans in Tennessee did receive the right to vote in 1924, the story of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in Western North Carolina is a more complex story. Prior to the First World War Cherokee citizenship had not been fully resolved despite the fact that around 70 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee joined the armed forces and in particular the 321st Infantry Regiment. On 16 Nov. 1919, congress passed the Citizenship Act of 1919, conferring citizenship upon American Indian World War I veterans and then in 1924 expanded the act to all indigenous people. But many Cherokee still had difficulty voting. Henry Owl, a US army veteran with a Masters degree from Chapel Hill was turned away from voting in Swain county in 1930 because he was told that as a Cherokee, he was ‘a ward of the US government’ and therefore had no standing to cast a ballot. Owl submitted his account to the US Senate Committee on Indian affairs which worked to help 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 the Cherokee veterans returned home from the Second World War that things really changed. After 300 Cherokee veterans were refused registration in North Carolina in 1946, Steve Youngdeer, Head of the American Legion in Cherokee filed a complaint with the Department of Justice and the state election board. It was not until October 1946 that Cherokee people were allowed to fully register and vote.