Fighting for the democracy we all deserve by securing the right to vote and dismantling barriers to the ballot box
Voting is the language of American democracy. The ability to participate in civic life — to have a voice in choosing the elected officials whose decisions impact our lives, families, and communities — is at the core of what it means to be an American.
At our nation’s founding, voting was enshrined only for educated white men who owned property. It took more than a century for the franchise to meaningfully expand to people of color, women, people with disabilities, people who are low-income, and Native Americans. Today, some elected leaders are still working to silence people who were historically denied access to the ballot box.
At The Leadership Conference, we are working to modernize elections and build a 21st century democracy — a democracy where all of our voices are heard. With our coalition partners, we inform the public, decision-makers, and the media about barriers to voting and advocate for policies that expand the right to vote, especially in communities of color. Voting, and the ability to participate in democracy, is a racial justice issue. It is a civil rights issue. And we are overdue for a change.
Restore the Voting Rights Act
On June 25, 2013, five justices on the Supreme Court invalidated key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that for decades protected voters in states with histories of pernicious voting discrimination. Now, in the absence of federal enforcement of voting rights, too many states are making it harder for people to vote. Our coalition is leading efforts to confront racial injustice in the electoral process and restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act to ensure every American can make their voice heard.
Achieve Rights Restoration
Once convicted of a felony, many people lose their right to vote. In 12 states, returning citizens lose their voting rights indefinitely for certain crimes, face an additional waiting period, or require a pardon in order to gain their right to vote back. The over-criminalization of communities of color by law enforcement and the legal system directly leads to disparities in voter access: One in every 13 voting-age African Americans cannot vote. These felony disenfranchisement provisions are vestiges of slavery and were adopted after the Civil War to undermine people of color’s power. We work with national and state partners to advocate for the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions.
Vision for Democracy
The right to vote is a fundamental right and, as the Supreme Court noted more than a century ago, is “preservative of all rights.” Historically, the franchise was not open to all citizens in the United States. Only with years of struggle and a demand for inclusivity was the right to vote expanded to include women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and young voters. There was a recognition that our country could not legitimately claim to be a representative democracy when it banned huge segments of the population from participating. Without a democracy that affords fair and equal opportunities for participation to everyone, we cannot make meaningful progress on urgent civil and human rights issues like justice reform, immigration, affordable health care, education equity, and economic security. When our democracy is in peril, so too are our civil rights.
Vision for Democracy: Fortifying the Franchise in 2020 and Beyond offers concrete policy proposals to address the many urgent issues that confront our nation in order to ensure that we have a strong, functioning democracy. We must demand that our public officials work together to restore integrity and legitimacy to our institutions. It is imperative that we build a 21st century democracy that represents our growing and diverse nation — a democracy that welcomes every person’s voice and participation, no matter who they are and regardless of their race, color, language, or ability.
Our nation could not have predicted the last two years. But instead of cowering to the hateful rhetoric and anti-civil rights policies of the Trump administration, we are raising our voices to defend the America we all deserve.