Civil rights icons Wells laid the foundation for the Voting Rights Act and ensured that voting is a fundamental right of all Americans.
Today, voters face new forms of discrimination, such as voter ID laws and ex-felon disenfranchisement, which are 21st-century versions of literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses.
The Right to Vote
In a democracy, the right to vote is central to individual liberty and citizenship. Yet throughout the world, individuals are disenfranchised from registering and voting in public elections or referendums for various reasons, including poverty, lack of access to education, illiteracy, language barriers, or religious restrictions.
In addition, Voting Rights Act advocates and leaders have fought to ensure citizens can exercise their franchises free from intimidation or violence. But the fight for voting rights is far from over. International human rights law provides a roadmap for advancing democratic institutions and ensuring everyone can participate in elections with dignity.
Today, voter suppression tactics still block people of color from the ballot box. These include discriminatory voter ID and proof of citizenship requirements, reduced polling place hours in communities of color, elimination of early voting opportunities, and illegal purges of voters from the rolls.
Across the country, people with felony convictions remain disproportionately disenfranchised, even after they’re released from prison. The over-criminalization of communities of color is directly related to the disparities in voter participation. Our work with national and state partners includes advocating for laws restoring voting rights for incarcerated veterans.
Voter suppression is a term for any laws or policies that make it harder for people to vote. This can be through changes that make voting more confusing or time-intensive, intimidation of voters, or buying votes by wealthy individuals and groups. These practices skew elections and reduce the impact of every citizen’s voice in our democracy.
Historically, voter suppression has targeted voters of color and low-income citizens. This includes barriers like discriminatory voter ID and proof-of-citizenship restrictions, reduced polling place hours in communities of color, elimination of early voting opportunities, and illegal purges from registration lists that disproportionately target communities of color.
A more subtle form of voter suppression involves gerrymandering, where state legislatures draw district lines to dilute certain groups or parties’ voting power to give themselves an unfair advantage in election results. This problem has been around since our nation’s founding and continues to exist today, often in the shadows of the electoral college.
The right to vote is an essential part of our democracy, and we can all work together to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to cast their ballot. One way to do this is to support and advocate for policies encouraging rather than suppressing voting. Whether it’s making it easier for people to register by providing automatic, online, and same-day registration or encouraging states to use independent or nonpartisan commissions to draw district lines, these are all ways we can help to restore functional democracy.
The Voting Rights Act
The 1965 Voting Rights Act ended a century of discrimination in voting and brought the United States closer to becoming an inclusive democracy. It outlawed literacy tests, poll taxes, and other racial discrimination at the ballot box. But the fight for equal access to vote is not over. Today, voter ID laws, ex-felon disenfranchisement, and other restrictive practices disproportionately affect people of color.
Civil society and nongovernmental organizations are on the front lines of the fight for equal access to the vote. They help voters register, educate them about their rights and how to vote, and contact election officials when problems arise. But some state lawmakers are chilling their work by passing laws that limit their involvement.
The struggle for equal access to the vote is a central theme of the civil rights movement and American history. Icons are a reminder that there is no more significant threat to democracy than the suppression of votes. The stories of these men, women, and children show that we cannot rest until everyone has the right to vote.
The League of Women Voters
Since 1920, the league has been a force for democratic reform in America. Members study issues and take action based on their consensus on what is best for the public good. The league doesn’t support or oppose candidates for political office. Still, it does encourage citizens to participate in government and make a difference at all levels of the national and state governments.
Today that nonpartisan, grassroots organization has a membership of more than 7 million people and is active in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Its work continues to evolve. In recent years, it has stepped up efforts to combat partisan gerrymandering, pushing in the states to use public hearings, apps, and software to draw fairer boundaries for legislative districts. The league also is tackling the issue of police reforms, taking stands that address the defunding of police departments and their role in racial profiling and violence.
But the league is getting pushback from Republican-leaning voters and politicians, who see the group as a threat to their party’s power. A recent video by a candidate for Congress in Illinois, Catalina Lauf, shows her slamming the league and calling its work “Marxist ideology.” And earlier this year, the league’s Nevada chapter closed after its president penned an op-ed that accused Democrats of hypocrisy for opposing gerrymandering in red states while embracing it in blue ones.