What Are Voter Rights?

Knowing your voter rights can help you protect your right to vote, a critical tool for democracy.

It's important to know that when you cast your ballot, nothing undermines your voting rights; it's also crucial that the government preserves the integrity of the election process. Sometimes, these concerns conflict, creating tension between the attempt to protect the right to vote and concerns to rid the system of corruption, including voter fraud.

In this article, you will learn about protecting your right to vote, including:

  • Voting restrictions and laws that can limit voting rights
  • Efforts to combat election reform that impact voting rights
  • How to recognize when someone is violating your voting rights
  • Actions to take if someone is violating your voting rights

Laws That Protect Your Voting Rights

Several federal laws protect your right to vote. Some of the laws target specific members of the population, such as The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act or The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Act, which allows soldiers and others who are overseas to vote with absentee ballots in federal elections. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 also revamped the voting process and improved voting systems and voter access. The House of Representatives and the Senate often consider voting rights laws before an upcoming election.

History of Voting Rights Barriers

Just as laws can protect your right to vote, some laws can infringe upon your voting rights. For many years, local governments used literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and white primaries to ban African Americans and other minorities from voting in elections. The enactment of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) changed election law by banning literacy tests and specifically prohibiting laws that discriminate based on race.

Lawmakers extended the act to ban discrimination against those who speak a language other than English. But, the VRA only bans laws that explicitly discriminate. So, indirect voter suppression can still affect minority voters. Also, the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, ruled that the pre-clearance mechanism, by which certain jurisdictions needed to seek approval of their voting system before implementing them, was unconstitutional because many of the historical impediments to voting caused by past discrimination by state legislatures no longer existed.

People with disabilities also faced difficulty voting. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) corrected many of those accessibility limitations. Greater use of mail ballots in elections, such as the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterm elections, has made voting more accessible for those who struggle to vote in person.

State Voting Restrictions

Each state must maintain its own electoral system and is bound to protect the sanctity of the election process. Although some state election laws might make voting more difficult, they are acceptable if they don't violate federal laws or constitutional protections. Examples of restrictive state laws include those that:

  • Make registration more difficult by limiting mobilization efforts or reducing registration opportunities
  • Prevent the preregistration of persons ages 16 or 17
  • Reduce in-person voting opportunities on election day
  • Limit early voting
  • Prohibit mail-in ballots or otherwise limit vote by mail
  • Reduce access to absentee voting opportunities

State Election Reforms

Lawmakers and advocates for election reform argue that enacting laws that may adversely affect voting rights is necessary to maintain the election system's integrity and that the rules can address critical issues such as voter fraud. There are continuous debates about this and disputes about the frequency of voter fraud because incidents may be difficult to detect as part of election administration.

Supporters of election reform in state legislatures believe that instilling confidence into the election system is worth the imposition on voting rights. But opponents disagree, claiming these laws are merely a politically motivated attempt at mainly disenfranchising minority voters and worrying about extra costs and burdens on local election officials and governments.

Voter ID Requirements

While the federal government has laws addressing acceptable forms of identification, states can also set their laws. These laws are controversial mainly because of the belief that some groups are less likely to have identification (low-income, voters of color, and the elderly), such as a driver's license, and may be disproportionately affected by these ID requirements. Some view these as voter suppression.

Voter Purges

A voter purge happens when state officials remove voter names from the rolls of registered voters following an audit. Although people whose names are missing from the rolls may be eligible voters, a voter usually can only vote if they are on the list. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court validated voter purges, and the scope is wide. People voting for the first time should ensure their name is on the voter registration list.


The political practice of gerrymandering is the creation of electoral maps that give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible. Gerrymandering is controversial because it's executed in a way that tends to predict the outcome of the elections by diluting a group's voting power in general elections.

For instance, state lawmakers may allow a map that breaks up districts mainly populated by Latino voters by stacking them in some districts and diminishing them in others. Doing so is unconstitutional if it dilutes minority voting strength when discriminatory intent exists. But, the law is not settled about how far legislatures can take redrawing districts to favor one party over another.

For instance, state lawmakers may authorize a map that breaks up districts mainly populated by Latino voters by stacking them in some districts and diminishing them in others. Doing so is unconstitutional if it dilutes minority voting strength when discriminatory intent exists. But, the law is unsettled regarding how far legislatures can take redrawing districts to favor one party over another.

How to Report Voting Issues

Protecting your voting rights is a multi-layered process. An initial step is to ensure that you're registered to vote. You can check your status with your state's office of the secretary of state or your local election office.

If you have any problems with casting your ballot, you should:

  • Contact a county election official at the polling place immediately. If someone challenges your right to vote, ask for a provisional ballot.
  • If the official can't or won't help you, report the problem directly to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
  • Complete the civil rights complaint form.

Report These Activities

Any time you feel intimidated or prevented from voting, you should report the incident. For example, if a person, including a poll worker, tries to tell you how to vote or if the polling place closes early or opens later than scheduled.

Protect Your Voting Rights with Help from an Attorney

Because voting rights are essential to being a citizen, you must protect this fundamental right. Suppose you suspect that someone has violated your voting rights via voter dilution, voter intimidation, or other means. In that case, you may voice your concerns to an experienced civil rights attorney who can help decide if you can file a lawsuit and provide additional information or advocacy.

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