When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1957, President Lyndon Johnson noted, “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”
Today, more than 50 years later, an anti-democracy movement is growing around the nation, and millions of Americans are fighting to protect their right to vote. Part of what makes our democracy great is the power the people wield to not only vote for candidates they support but to withhold votes if they choose. Limiting that ability is just one more step toward consolidating unchecked power at the top, with those who are already in office.
But even in the face of what can seem like an uphill battle, there’s still hope. While it’s no coincidence or secret that the people affected most by voter suppression efforts are people of color, low income communities, the elderly, and students, the anti-democracy movement is on the losing end of the fight as a result of these same groups of people.
Our country saw this first-hand in the December 2017 Senate race in Alabama. It was first and foremost African American voters, specifically African American women, who overcame voter suppression efforts to cast their vote last month. In fact, despite facing unprecedented hurdles at the ballot box, Black and Latino voters out-organized the opposition to turn out some of the highest numbers of voters ever seen in Alabama.
Voter suppression in the South is nothing new. It started as a racist effort during Reconstruction to keep power from Black people. It has only grown since then, seeking to block all people of color, low-income communities, and young people from voting. What the state of Alabama has done over the past few decades has served as a template in many other largely southern states. State Legislatures and Secretaries of State have been enacting massive voter suppression reforms all across the country. Local election clerks are even participating willingly, or having little power to resist, these efforts to block people of color, low-income folks, and young people from voting.
And we know that more insidious efforts to suppress our power at the ballot box are still yet to come. The people and corporations who are systematically attacking voting rights and dumping billions of dollars into elections are also actively polluting our air and water, pushing to increase fossil fuel operations, and ignoring the science when it comes to the climate crisis.
That’s why it’s critical for the Sierra Club and our millions of members and supporters to actively engage in protecting Americans’ right to vote and grow our participation with allies around the country. Our air, water, environment, and communities depend on it.
There are still plenty of things we, as everyday Americans, can do to protect the right to vote and ensure a fair and open democracy. We can organize and prepare for the fight ahead and the voter suppression efforts that are likely to come. We can educate and encourage our local election clerks and state election officials to stop blindly purging voter rolls and push them to take steps to increase access and voter participation. We can push to expand voting hours, increase volunteer poll workers, and make sure elections run smoothly. We can work to register 100 percent of all eligible Americans by pushing for reforms like Election Day registration, automatic voter registration, early voting, vote by mail, and restoring the right to vote for Americans with past felony convictions.
Together, we can modernize our elections so that they work for all Americans. Join us to help protect our democracy!