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First Chinese Man to Vote in Santa Clara County

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

An American born Chinese man named Ma Chuck was the first man of Chinese decent to register to vote in Santa Clara County on September 25, 1894. Chuck, then a resident of San Jose appeared at the County Clerks office and asked Deputy Clerk F. A Schilling to register. It sparked a debate about Article 11, Section 1 in the California Constitution whether it was legal for him to vote.

Ma Chuck Registered to Vote, September, 26 1894
Ma Chuck Registered to Vote, SJM, September, 26 1894

The debate was over whether Chuck being on the Chinese race disqualified him from the possibility of voting. The Fifteenth amendment states that it is the right of US citizens to vote and "cannot be denied or abridged on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude." Ma Chuck was born in San Francisco in 1865 and was a naturalized citizen..

Ma Chuck Portrait, September, 26,1894
Ma Chuck Portrait, September, 26,1894

According to his voter registration:

Name: Ma Chuck,

Age 29;

Height, 5 feet 6 inches;

Complexion, dark; color of hair, dark; scars, pock-marked;

Occupation, interpreter:

Country of Nativity, California:

Residence, San Jose, Second Ward.

The San Jose Mercury article has a quick summation of his history:

Ma Chuck is now 29 years old, and was born in San Francisco in 1865. When he was but 8 years old he made the voyage to China with his parents and remained there seven years, putting in his time mastering the Chinese language.
At the age of 15 be returned to this country with his uncle, Ma Toy Yong, and when about 18 years of age he was placed in the Occidental mission on Clay street, conducted by Miss Bascom. For three years he studied the English language, and after becoming able to speak quite fluently left, and for about the same period of time that he was in the mission instructed Chinese boys and girls in the English language.
At the age of 24 he was chosen to fill the high position of inspector of the Nung Young Company, the largest of the Six Companies. After filling this position acceptably for a year he left, and has since made a business of interpreting. He came to this city about a year ago, and during the registration of the Chinese acted as interpreter for D. W. Harkness, Deputy Internal Revenue Collector.

Eventually, after much consultation with amongst lawyers, Ma Chuck was allowed to vote. Interestingly, Chuck is the only the second Chinese man up to that point to register to vote in the state of California.

Ma Chuck Registered to Vote, SF Call, September, 24 1894
Ma Chuck Registered to Vote, SF Call, September, 24 1894


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