The Right To Vote | 26 Titles To Build a Collection

These titles focus on voting rights and elections in the United States. They introduce readers to voting and basic civics, and cover major historical events and issues in the struggle for voting rights. 

Voting rights have been a fraught issue since the founding of the United States, when for the most part only white male property owners could vote. A patchwork of state laws controlled eligibility, and white backlash against increased electoral participation by white immigrants and people of color led to several waves and forms of voting restrictions. Black men, in theory enfranchised after the Civil War, were particularly targeted. A great deal happened in the five years after the Civil War and the passage of the 15th Amendment. Even after white women gained the right to vote in 1920 by constitutional amendment, Black and other women of color did not reliably gain their franchise until the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was later modified to include language minorities and people with disabilities.

However, the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder ended the preclearance provision mandated by the act, and many state legislatures passed laws restricting the right to vote, disproportionately impacting BIPOC voters and those with less income. On January 13, the Senate blocked the Freedom To Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which would have created a new preclearance formula, among other reforms designed to make it easier to vote (see here and here for more on the history of voting rights).

The titles below focus on voting rights and election in the United States. They introduce readers to voting and basic civics, and cover major historical events and issues in the struggle for voting rights. Many focus on voting among marginalized groups, particularly Black people. Others address voter suppression tactics after Shelby County v. Holder. And some suggest solutions for expanding voting rights and fighting voter suppression. Selectors should keep in mind that the subject can be highly partisan. University press books aimed at a general audience are worth considering even in a public library context. Although seminal works such as Alexander Keyssar’s The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States remain essential, selectors should consider publication date; titles published before Shelby County v. Holder may be out of date. Starred titles are considered essential for most libraries.


Hetherington, Marc & Jonathan Weiler. Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide. Mariner. 2018. 289p. ISBN 9781328866783. $28.

Authors and scholars Hetherington and Weiler explain that our current political polarization is caused by both fixed and fluid worldviews that fuse with political party identity.

Rodden, Jonathan. Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide. Basic. 2019. 337p. ISBN 9781541644274. $30.

Due to geographic sorting trends and the electoral system, those in rural areas hold an electoral advantage over city dwellers. Political science professor Rodden looks at the history of geographic sorting and the implications for elections.

Salvanto, Anthony. Where Did You Get This Number? A Pollster’s Guide to Making Sense of the World. S. & S. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781501174858. $26.

Director of CBS News’ Elections and Surveys Salvanto explains political polling methods and polling data and demystifies jargon and practices.

Smith, Erin Geiger. Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America. Harper. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9780062934826. $25.99.

In this overview of voting history, journalist Smith covers common voting topics such as polling and gerrymandering. The book also includes a checklist for voters as they prepare to go to the polls.

Wehle, Kim. What You Need To Know About Voting and Why. HarperCollins. 2020. 336p. pap. ISBN 9780062974785. $17.99.

Law professor Wehle’s primer for new voters explains civics, explores the mechanics of voting and voting rights, and includes a list of voting requirements by state.


Berman, Ari. Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Farrar. 2015. 386p. ISBN 9780374158279. $41.99.

Journalist and president of Yeshiva University Berman discusses the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enfranchised millions of voters.

Goldstone, Lawrence. On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights. Counterpoint. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781640093928. $26.

Author and journalist Goldstone discusses the role of the Supreme Court and white supremacy in the disenfranchisement of Black voters after Reconstruction.

Gumbel, Andrew. Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America. rev. ed. New Pr. 2016. 304p. pap. ISBN 9781620971680. $18.95.

In this updated version of Steal This Vote (2005), journalist Gumbel looks at historic and current examples of voter suppression.

Jones, Martha S. Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. Basic. 2020. 353p. ISBN 9781541618619. $30.

Although the 19th Amendment secured voting rights for white women, many Black women remained disenfranchised and were forced to fight longer, creating their own suffrage movement. Jones tells the story of Black women’s struggle to secure voting rights.

Quinn, Bridget. She Votes: How U.S. Women Won Suffrage, and What Happened Next. Chronicle. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9781452173160. $35.

Quinn (Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History [in That Order]) presents an intersectional look at key figures in the women’s suffrage and women’s rights movements. Several vivid illustrations are included.

Waldman, Michael. The Fight To Vote. rev. ed. S. & S. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9781982198930. $20.

Waldman (president, Brennan Ctr. for Justice, New York Univ. Sch. of Law) offers a comprehensive and essential look at voting rights, from the nation’s founding through the present. The latest edition includes commentary on the 2020 election.

Weiss, Elaine. The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight To Win the Vote. Penguin. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9780525429722. $28.

Journalist Weiss tells the tense story of how Tennessee became the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment and extend voting rights to women.


Barreto, Matt & Gary M. Segura. Latino America: How America’s Most Dynamic Population Is Poised To Transform the Politics of the Nation. PublicAffairs. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781610395014. $28.

Latinx voters make up an increasingly important voting demographic and were especially influential in the 2020 presidential election. Political scientists Barreto and Segura profile members of this voting group, demonstrating Latinx people’s diversity of political opinion.

Cross, Tiffany. Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy. Amistad. 2020. 247p. pap. ISBN 9780062976765. $17.99.

The news media heavily influences both public and political opinion. Cross, a former journalist, draws from her own experience as she argues that the lack of diversity in newsrooms contributes to the influence of white supremacy in politics. She explores the impact of Black voters and emphasizes that the Black vote is crucial to democracy.

Phillips, Steve. Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority. New Pr. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9781620971154. $25.95.

Though many members of the Democratic Party believe that demographic change—increasing numbers of people of color and of progressive white people—will ensure election wins, Phillips (cofounder, Power argues that their campaign efforts are centered on gaining new white voters. He calls for campaigns to focus instead on mobilizing voters of color.

Pinckney, Darryl. Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy. rev. ed. New York Review Books. 2020. 144p. pap. ISBN 9781681375595. $14.95.

In this concise blend of memoir and analysis, Pinckney (Busted in New York and Other Essays) argues that Black voters have historically used their voting power to enact change and still can. The book is a strong introduction to the history of the Black vote. The 2020 update includes a new essay on the impact of the George Floyd protests and the COVID pandemic.


Douglas, Joshua A. Vote for US: How To Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Prometheus. 2019. 352p. pap. ISBN 9781633885103. $18.

Voting rights stories can also be inspirational, as law professor Douglas illustrates through positive narratives of people fighting for rights and reform.

Hasen, Richard L. Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy. Yale Univ. 2020. 202p. ISBN 9780300248197. $16.

Attorney and law professor Hasen details the primary dangers to American democracy, namely voter suppression, social media manipulation, incompetent election officials, and discourse about rigged elections—and suggests long-term fixes.

Keyssar, Alexander. Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? Harvard Univ. 2020. 544p. ISBN 9780674660151. $35.

The Electoral College has been widely cited as a barrier to representative democracy. Scholar and author Keyssar explains the origins and mechanics of the Electoral College and analyzes reform efforts.

Meade, Desmond. Let My People Vote: My Battle To Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens. Beacon. 2020. 176p. ISBN 9780807062326. $22.95.

In this memoir, Meade reveals that a felony conviction prevented him for voting for his wife, Sheena, who was running for public office. This led him to campaign to restore voting rights to Floridians convicted of a felony.


Abrams, Stacey. Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America. Holt. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781250257703. $27.99.

Voting rights advocate and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Abrams summarizes her perspective on voting rights and voter suppression tactics and suggests remedies.

Anderson, Carol. One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Bloomsbury. 2018. 361p. ISBN 9781635571370. $27.

In this essential title, historian Ander son explores common voter suppression tactics, particularly in the aftermath of Shelby County v. Holder.

Cheeseman, Nic & Brian Klaas. How To Rig an Election. Yale Univ. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780300204438. $26.

Scholars Cheeseman and Klaas argue that the world is experiencing a rise in authoritarian electoral practices—that is, rigged elections in countries ruled by dictators. The authors explore elections in several countries, including Russia, Nigeria, and the United States.

Daley, David. Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy. Liveright. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781631491627. $26.95.

After the 2010 election, Republican legislatures gerrymandered electoral maps to favor their candidates. Journalist Daley explores the continuing impact of gerrymandering on voter representation.

Graff, Michael & Nick Ochsner. The Vote Collectors: The True Story of the Scamsters, Politicians, and Preachers Behind the Nation’s Greatest Electoral Fraud. Univ. of North Carolina. 2021. 296p. ISBN 9781469665566. $28.

Bladen County, NC, experienced the only instance of widespread absentee voter fraud during the 2018 midterm election for the Ninth Congressional District. Reporters Graff and Ochsner interview the key players to uncover the true story.

Litt, David. Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think. Ecco. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780062879363. $28.99.

In this humorous analysis of the ways in which our democracy has become less democratic, Litt, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, reflects on the impact of voter suppression.

Rebekah Kati is the Institutional Repository Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been reviewing for LJ since 2012 and was named a 2018 Reviewer of the Year.

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