Votes are the oldest known ethnic group in Ingria. They are probably descended from an Iron-age population of north-eastern Estonia and western Ingria. Some scholars claim they were a tribe of Estonians, who developed a separate identity during isolation from other Estonians. It is speculated the ancient Estonian county of Vaiga got its name from Votians. The Budini, ancient people described by Herodotus, have been identified as Votes. The Kylfings, a people active in Northern Europe during the Viking Age, may have also been Votes.
The earliest literary references to the Votes by their traditional name are from medieval Russian sources, where Votes are referred to as Voď. Older Russian sources grouped them (under the name Chudes) with Estonians. Lake Peipus near the Votian homelands is called Chudsko ozero, meaning "Lake of Chudes" in Russian.
In 1069 Votes were mentioned taking part in an attack on the Novgorod Republic by the Principality of Polotsk. Eventually Votes became part of the Novgorod Republic and in 1149 they were mentioned taking part in an attack by Novgorod against Jems who are speculated to be peoples of Tavastia. One of the administrative divisions of Novgorod, Voch'skaa, was named after Votes. After the collapse of Novgorod, the Grand Duchy of Moscow deported many Votes from their homelands and began more aggressive conversion of them. Missionary efforts started in 1534, after Novgorod's archbishop Macarius complained to Ivan IV that Votes were still practicing their pagan beliefs. Makarius was authorized to send monk Ilja to convert the Votes. Ilja destroyed many of the old holy shrines and worshiping places. Conversion was slow and the next archbishop Feodosii had to send priest Nikifor to continue Ilja's work. Slowly Votes were converted and they became devoted Christians.
Sweden controlled Ingria in the 17th century, and attempts to convert local Orthodox believers to the Lutheran faith caused some of the Orthodox population to migrate elsewhere. At the same time many Finnish peoples immigrated to Ingria. Religion separated the Lutheran Finns and Estonians and the Orthodox Izhorians and Votes, so intermarriage was uncommon between these groups. Votes mainly married other Votes, or Izhorians and Russians. They were mostly trilingual in Votic, Izhoran and Russian. In 1848, the number of Votes had been 5,148, (Ariste 1981: 78). but in the Russian census of 1926 there were only 705 left. From the early 20th century on, the Votic language no longer passed to following generations. Most Votes were evacuated to Finland along with Finnish Ingrians during World War II, but were returned to the Soviet Union later.
As a distinct people, Votes have become practically extinct after Stalinist dispersion to distant Soviet provinces as 'punishment' for alleged disloyalty and cowardice during World War II. Expelees allowed to return in 1956 found their old homes occupied by Russians. In 1989, there were still 62 known Votes left, with the youngest born in 1930. There were 73 self-declared Votes in the 2002 Russian census. Of them 12 lived in St. Petersburg, 12 in Leningrad Oblast and 10 in Moscow. In 2008 Votes were added to the list of Indigenous peoples of Russia, granting them some support to preserving their culture. There have been some conflicts with Votic villagers and foresters, and in 2001 the Votic museum was burned in the village of Lužitsõ. Another possible problem is a port which is being constructed to Ust-Luga. It is planned that some 35,000 people would move near historic Votic and Izhoran villages.
The Votes in Latvia were called krieviņi in Latvian. The word comes from krievs, which means "Russian". Historical sources indicate the Teutonic Knights led by Vinke von Overberg captured many people in Ingermanland during their attack there in 1444–1447, and moved them to Bauska, where a workforce was needed to build a castle. It is estimated that some 3,000 people were transferred there. After the castle was built, the Votes did not go back, but were settled in the vicinity of Bauska and became farmers. Gradually, they forgot their own language and customs and were assimilated by the neighboring Latvians. They are first mentioned in literature of 1636. The first "modern" scientist to study them was Finnish Anders Johan Sjögren, but the first person to connect them with Votes was Ferdinand Johan Wiedemann in 1872. Latvian poet Jānis Rainis had some Votic roots.
Historically most Votes were farmers. Slash and burn (sardo) was practiced until the early 20th century. Cattle, horses and geese were the most important livestock. Some made their living from fishing. Many primitive fishing habits survived a long time in Votic communities, such as fishing with a club or spear. Seine fishing was practiced during the winter. Votians formed seine groups (artelli) and made fishing trips as far as the Finnish outer islands like Seskar. Fishermen lived in wooden sleds called (pudka) during these trips. Hunting was never an important source of income, because local nobility had reserved the right to hunt to themselves. Since St. Petersburg was so close to Votic homelands, many of the Votes went working there. Men worked in factories and women worked as servants. This contributed to rapid demise of Votic culture.