Top Ten History of Voting Rights Booklist

The Right to Vote

Charles Zelden, a legal scholar, author, and expert on election law, created a booklist for Legal History Blog of the best books on the history of election law and voting rights. Over the last few years, this booklist has become even more relevant than before. Check out Zeldin's booklist because he highlights the struggles Americans have had securing the right to the vote. The first nine books on the list are his choices, but we added one more book to round out the Top Ten Booklist.

We have included links to Amazon, but a number of these books are fairly expensive. See if you can check them out from your local library.

1. Alexander Keyssar, The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (Basic Books, 2000) Originally published in 2000, The Right to Vote was widely hailed as a magisterial account of the evolution of suffrage from the American Revolution to the end of the twentieth century. In this revised and updated edition, Keyssar carries the story forward, from the disputed presidential contest of 2000 through the 2008 campaign and the election of Barack Obama. The Right to Vote is a sweeping reinterpretation of American political history as well as a meditation on the meaning of democracy in contemporary American life.

2. Charles l. Zelden, Voting Rights on Trial (Hackett, 2004) At various times in U.S. history, the right to vote has been granted or denied on the basis of such criteria as wealth, gender, ethnicity, and race. Through both analysis and documentation, this volume introduces the reader to the history of vote denial and dilution and the landmark court opinions that both created and ended these practices.

3. Stephen F. Lawson, Black Ballots: Voting Rights in the South, 1944-1969 (Lexington Books, 1999) Black Ballots is an in-depth look at suffrage expansion in the South from World War II through the Johnson administration. Steven Lawson focuses on the "Second Reconstruction"―the struggle of blacks to gain political power in the South through the ballot-which both whites and black perceived to be a key element in the civil rights process.

4. R. Volney Riser, Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 (LSU Press, 2010) In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jim Crow strengthened rapidly and several southern states adopted new constitutions designed primarily to strip African American men of their right to vote. Since the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited eliminating voters based on race, the South concocted property requirements, literacy tests, poll taxes, white primaries, and white control of the voting apparatus to eliminate the region's black vote almost entirely. Desperate to save their ballots, black political leaders, attorneys, preachers, and activists fought back in the courts, sustaining that resistance until the nascent NAACP took over the legal battle.

5. Richard C. Cortner, The Apportionment Cases (W. W. Norton & Co., 1970) Check your library or look for a used copy.

6. Charles L. Zelden, Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Hidden Crisis in American Democracy (U. Press of Kansas, 2008 [HB]; abridged and updated, 2010) The infamous 2000 presidential election produced hanging chads, butterfly ballots, endless recounts, raucous allegations, and a constitutional crisis-until a controversial Supreme Court decision allowed George W. Bush to become president despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. Charles L. Zelden presents the definitive history of this vexing and acrimonious affair, offering the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate analysis of a remarkable episode in American politics. Zelden probes deeper than any other scholar has sought to do—showing that both the election controversy of 2000 and Bush v. Gore signaled major flaws in our electoral system that remain with us today, exposing a hidden crisis in American democracy.

7. Richard L. Hasen, The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (Yale Univ. Press, 2012) In 2000, just a few hundred votes out of millions cast in the state of Florida separated Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush from his Democratic opponent, Al Gore. The outcome of the election rested on Florida's 25 electoral votes, and legal wrangling continued for 36 days. Then, abruptly, one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history, Bush v. Gore, cut short the battle. Since the Florida debacle, we have witnessed a partisan war over election rules. Election litigation has skyrocketed, and election time brings out inevitable accusations by political partisans of voter fraud and voter suppression.

8. Christopher Malone, Between Freedom and Bondage: Race, Party and Voting Rights in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008) Between Freedom and Bondage looks at the fluctuations of black suffrage in the antebellum North, using the four states of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island as examples. In each of these states, a different outcome was obtained for blacks in their quest to share the vote. By analyzing the various outcomes of state struggles, Malone offers a framework for understanding and explaining how the issue of voting rights for blacks unfolded between the drafting of the Constitution and the end of the Civil War.

9. Charles L. Zelden, The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary (U. Press of Kansas, 2005) The history of voting rights in America is a checkerboard marked by dogged progress against persistent prejudice toward an expanding inclusiveness. The Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Allwright is a crucial chapter in that broader story and marked a major turning point for the modern civil rights movement. Charles Zelden's concise and thoughtful retelling of this episode reveals why.

Our Addition:

10.  Marjorie Spruill Wheeler,  New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Southern States (Oxford University Press, 1993) There is currently a great deal of interest in the Southern suffrage movement, but until now historians have had no comprehensive history of the woman suffrage movement in the South, the region where suffragists had the hardest fight and the least success. This important new book focuses on eleven of the movement's most prominent leaders at the regional and national levels, exploring the range of opinions within this group, with particular emphasis on race and states' rights. Wheeler insists that the suffragists were motivated primarily by the desire to secure public affirmation of female equality and to protect the interests of women, children, and the poor in the tradition of noblesse oblige in a New South they perceived as misgoverned by crass and materialistic men.