The Unheard Third is a Public Wise series which examines the reasons why one third of the potential* American electorate did not participate in the 2020 presidential election.
The “potential electorate” refers to people who meet the requirements laid out in the constitution and clarified in its amendments: citizens who are 18 years of age or older. We say potential because not everyone who meets these requirements is actually eligible to vote. In most states, there are additional criteria that can disqualify otherwise age and citizenship eligible people from voting.
In the post (14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th) Constitutional Amendment and Voting Rights Act world, baseline voting eligibility requires that you are 18 years of age or over and a citizen to legally vote in the United States. All but one state (North Dakota) also requires that you be registered to vote. We will talk about how registration rules and requirements make it harder for some people to vote in our next post on barriers to voting. Nevertheless, registration, alongside age and citizenship, serve as the foundation for voting eligibility in the United States. Beyond these factors, there are two major things that serve to legally disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters: “mental incompetence” and felony conviction.