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Constitution of Virginia, 1902

  • Voting Requirements of the Constitution of Virginia, 1902
This broadside listed the voting requirements for Virginia as laid out by the 1902 state constitution.
Related documents:
  • First Virginia Constitution
    First Virginia Constitution, June 29, 1776
  • Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery
    Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864
  • Virginia Vagrancy Law
    Virginia Vagrancy Law, January 15, 1866
  • Voter Registration in Portsmouth
    Voter Registration in Portsmouth, Virginia, September 29, 1964
« Return to The Fifteenth Amendment

Voting Requirements of the Constitution of Virginia, 1902

This broadside lists the requirements that the Virginia Constitution of 1902 imposed on men who wished to register to vote. As in most of the other southern states, many white men in Virginia were intent on reducing the number of African American men who voted and held public office, and they had engaged in violence, intimidation, and corruption to prevent African Americans and Republicans from voting or winning elections during the 1880s and 1890s. In 1901 the General Assembly authorized a convention to draft a new constitution that would, among other things, restrict the vote to white men without violating the terms of the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited states from denying the vote to any man because of his "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Constitution of 1902 disenfranchised about 90 percent of the black men who still voted at the beginning of the twentieth century and nearly half of the white men. The number of eligible African American voters fell from about 147,000 in 1901 to about 10,000 by 1905.

For the first elections to be held in 1902 and 1903 Civil War veterans and their adult sons and property owners who had paid at least $1 in property taxes during the previous year or who could give a reasonable explanation of any portion of the new state constitution were allowed to register and vote. After that, the article created an administrative structure and allowed the legislature to pass enabling laws designed to make it difficult or impossible for the average Virginian, black or white, to register to vote. The constitution required payment of a poll tax of $1.50 for each of three years preceding an election, meaning the effective exclusion from the ballot box of many poor black and poor white men. It also required each man who wished to vote to seek out a registrar and go through a complex process of registration and examination without any guidance from the registrar, giving the registrar an extraordinary amount of power to determine a man's eligibility to vote. The constitution also created electoral boards to oversee the conduct of elections and the certification of election returns. All of those officers except the locally elected collector of the poll tax were appointees of the local judge who in turn was elected by the General Assembly in which Democrats of white-supremacy beliefs had and expected to retain a more-than-comfortable majority.

Virginia's poll tax remained in effect until the 1960s, when federal court decisions, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal to deny the right to vote to any person who failed to pay the poll tax.

The 1902 Constitution also required racial segregation in public schools. Fearful that voters who would be disenfranchised by the new constitution would vote against ratification, the convention proclaimed the constitution in effect as of July 10, 1902. It remained in effect until 1971, far longer than any other constitution of Virginia.

For Educators

Questions

1.  Who was allowed to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment?

2. What was the ultimate goal of the 1902 Virginia Constitution?

3. Were there any exceptions for voter registration under the 1902 Constitution?

Further Discussion

1. Compare the restrictions and the roadblocks to black voting with tools employed by other southern states. How did Virginia's efforts compare?

2. Discuss the connection between voting rights and civil rights. Use examples from the Reconstruction era and the Civil Rights era to examine their impact on the franchise throughout Virginia's and America's history.

 3. Compare the 1902 Virginia Constitution with the "First Virginia Constitution, June 29,  1776." Can you perceive differences in the framer's intentions?

Suggested Reading

Holt, Wythe W., Jr. "The Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902: A Reform Movement Which Lacked Substance." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 76, no. 1 (January, 1968) 67–102.

Dinan, John J. The Virginia State Constitution: A Reference Guide. New York: Greenwood Publishing Co., 2006.

Pulley, Raymond H. Old Virginia Restored: An Interpretation of the Progressive Impulse, 1870–1930. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968, 66–91.

TO REPUBLICAN VOTERS
OF THE 9TH CONGRES-
SIONAL DIST. OF VA.

Under the new Constitution, IN
ORDER TO VOTE HEREAFTER,
you must act as follows. namely:
First: Register FORTHWITH be-
fore the Board of Registration of
your Precinct.
Second: WHO CAN REGISTER?
1st. All men who are 21; who
have resided in Virginia 2 years, in
the County, City, or town 1 year. in
Precinct 30 days prior to election.
PROVIDED YOU WERE EITH-
ER: [one is sufficient.]
2nd. A SOLDIER or SAILOR in
time of war in any army, either the
Union, Confederate or State. (Your
own oath will be sufficient evidence,
but present certificate of Discharge
if you have same.)
3rd. Or a SON of a Soldier or
Sailor. (Your oath thereof suffi-
cient evidence, but have other wit-
ness if you can do so.)
4th. Or, if you were not a Soldier,
Sailor or Son; THEN IF YOU
OWN PROPERTY on which you
paid $1.00 STATE TAX IN 1901,
[The Treasurers will furnish Re-
gistrars with names of those who
have paid same.]
5th. Or, if you were not a Soldier,
Sailor or Son; OR DID NOT in 1901
pay ONE DOLLAR STATE TAX-
ES on PROPERTY OWNED BY
YOU; THEN YOU MUST BE
ABLE TO “READ” OR “UNDER-
STAND” (and, in either case, “give
A REASONABLE EXPLANA-
TION of”) any SECTION of the
Constitution “SUBMITTED or
READ TO YOU by the Registrars.”  6th. YOU ARE REQUIRED TO
POSSESS ONLY ONE OF THE
ABOVE QUALIFICAIONS to en-
Title you to register. And ONLY
ONE.
Third; If the Board of Registrars de-
nies you registration, FORTHWITH
ARRANGE TO APPEAL; consult
Republican County or City Chair-
man, who will instruct you how to
proceed.
Fourth: Please urge all Republican
voters to remember that “ANY VO-
TER REGISTERED NOW MAY
BE AIDED IN THE PREPARA-
TION OF HIS BALLOT BY SUCH
OFFICER OF ELECTION AS HE,
THE VOTER HIMSELF, MAY
DESIGNATE;” a corrupt judge
cannot be forced on the voter as here-
tofore. Remember when REGIS-
TERED NOW YOU ARE REGIS-
TERED PERMANENTLY.
Fifth: Finally remember:
1. Find out the FIRST REGIS-
TRATION DAY and register then.
DON'T DELAY A MOMENT.
2. Find out the PLACE WHERE
HELD.
3. Watch the NOTICES OF REG-
ISTRATION and URGE ALL RE-
PUBLICANS to register. Let noth-
ing interfere.
4. The hours of registration in the
COUNTRY precincts are from 8
o'clock in morning to sunset. In
city and towns from 12 o'clock noon
to 9 o'clock at night.
5. Assist in inducing our voters
to register. The Committee and
Chairman will appreciate your work.
STUART J. LINDSEY
  DISTRICT CHAIRMAN,