Importance of the Right to Vote

The right to vote embodies the spirit of American democracy.  Though we have propounded democracy abroad, suffrage has never been equally accessible to all Americans. Casting a vote is the most widely understood and discretely effective way to have one's voice heard in American politics.  When we exercise our right to vote for public officials, the votes we cast extend far beyond one election: we are able to elect individuals who will make concrete decisions on our behalf about how our government will be run, the wars we engage in and how resources, both national and local, are distributed.  In addition, the election of candidates from diverse communities serves to create a leadership base that can articulate and advocate for the particularized needs of these communities.

This history of the right to vote has been defined by exclusions.  At the beginning of our republic for the most part only white males with property or wealth could exercise the right to vote.  The first major expansion of the right to vote occurred after the Civil War with the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which extended the right to vote to former African American slaves.  However, from that time until the Voting Rights Act in 1965, many African American, Latino/a, Asian American and indigenous Indian communities were kept from the polls through overtly racist means.  Although the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 heralded a new beginning in providing racial and ethnic minority communities with access to the political process, the struggle for universal suffrage and political participation is far from over.  This struggle for electoral equality continues today.  Concerned community activists, voting rights lawyers and other advocates armed with tools, such as the federal Voting Rights Act and other federal and state statutes, persist in their efforts to dismantle the last vestiges of electoral devices, practices and procedures that inhibit the full political integration of racial and ethnic minority communities.  We hope that the information and tools in this website help you to join the ranks of voting rights advocates.

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