The Evolution of Voting in Kentucky

The U.S. Constitution neither granted nor prohibited voting for anyone. The question of voting rights was referred to the states, and most states restricted the right to vote by age, class, gender, and race. Kentucky's ever-changing voting policies reflect the long struggle of many groups to make their voices heard.


1788: The first U.S. election is held under the newly ratified Constitution. Most states only allowed white landowning men aged 21 and older to vote, though the landownership requirement was removed by most states by the 1850s.

1792: The first Kentuckians cast votes after Kentucky is made a state in June. The first Kentucky Constitution uses relatively progressive language on voting rights, mentioning nothing about race or property ownership. The Constitution only requires voters to be "free male citizens of the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the State two years."

1799: Kentucky's second Constitution is written, this time specifically disenfranchising free “negroes, mulattoes, and Indians.”

1850: Kentucky's third Constitution specifically requires all voters to be "white."

1855: Anti-Catholic riots take place on Election Day in many cities, including Louisville, in what would become known as "Bloody Monday." German and Irish voters were driven from the polls, and many were killed or had homes destroyed.

1870: The 15th Amendment grants African American men the right to vote. Black voters continue to face obstacles to voting for years to come in the form of grandfather clauses, poll taxes, white primaries, and literacy tests, as well as outright intimidation and violence.

1920: The 19th Amendment grants women the right to vote after being passed by Congress and ratified by 36 states.

1924: The Indian Citizens Act grants citizenship to all Native Americans, but leaves the question of voting rights up to each state. Not until 1962 will all states officially guarantee the vote to Native Americans.

1955: Kentucky's Voting Rights Referendum lowered the voting age in the state to 18, 16 years before the 26th amendment lowered the age nationally. 

1965: The Voting Rights Act is passed in an effort to end the disenfranchisement of African American voters. Though in many states the act was weakly enforced or not enforced at all, it did give Black voters the legal justification to fight discrimination at the polls

1971: The 26th Amendment lowers the voting age from 21 to 18.

The Evolution of Voting in Kentucky