• Video
  • July 20, 2020

The Right to Vote: A Constitutional History

What did the original Constitution say about the right to vote? How did that change over time, and why? In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, join election law experts Alexander Keyssar of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Derek Muller of the University of Iowa College of Law, and Franita Tolson of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law for a conversation exploring the evolution of suffrage from the American Revolution to today. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, moderates. 

This program is made possible through the generous support of SteegeThomson Communications and as part of the Center’s yearlong initiative, Women and the Constitution, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.



  • Alexander Keyssar is the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is the author of several books, including The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States and Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?. In 2004 and 2005, Keyssar chaired the Social Science Research Council's National Research Commission on Voting and Elections. He writes frequently for the popular press about American politics and history.

  • Derek Muller is professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law. His work has appeared in the Arizona Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, the Arizona State Law Journal, the Florida State University Law Review, the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Fordham Law Review, and the peer-reviewed Election Law Journal. He previously taught at the Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine and Penn State Law. Muller practiced as a litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Chicago. His opinion pieces have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

  • Franita Tolson is vice dean for faculty and academic affairs and professor of law at Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California. Her forthcoming book is Rethinking the Constitutional Structure of Political Rights: The Evolution of Federal Voting Rights Enforcement from the Founding to the Dawn of the Progressive Era. Her research also has appeared in several leading law reviews and she has written or appeared as a commentator for various mass media outlets including The Huffington Post, The Hill, Reuters, and Bloomberg Law. Prior to joining USC Gould, Tolson was the Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights at Florida State University College of Law. 

  • Jeffrey Rosen is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor of law at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic.

Resources Cited During the Program

Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States

14th Amendment, Interactive Constitution

15th Amendment, Interactive Constitution

Elections Clause (co-written by Franita Tolson), Interactive Constitution

Article I, Section 5, Interactive Constitution

Alexander Keyssar, Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?

America’s Town Hall program: Why Does the Electoral College Exist?

RNC v. DNC (2020)

Purcell v. Gonzalez (2006)

Shelby County v. Holder (2013)

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