My Turn: Pass the For the People Act

For the Monitor
Published: 3/10/2021 7:26:31 AM

As Americans, we take pride in our Constitution, which begins with the words “We the people.” But only white, Protestant, male landowners could vote for ratification. Women, enslaved people, youth, and those without means could not.

For more than two centuries, Americans struggled to make our Union more perfect. It took a Civil War to abolish slavery with the 13th Amendment. Then the 15th Amendment established the right to vote: “The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But by the 1890s, voting rights were still denied by poll taxes, literacy tests, violence, and corruption.

In 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women won the right to vote. After generations of civil rights activism, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 abolished poll taxes, literacy tests, and prerequisites to registration and voting. And in 1971, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

Americans of all stripes fought long and hard for democracy, especially the right to vote. Yet just months after a national election with the highest level of voter participation in history – despite a pandemic – over 250 bills have been proposed by states, including New Hampshire, to suppress our right to vote.

Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

We must heed Lincoln’s warning: To protect our democracy, our freedoms, and the integrity of our voting process, we must call  Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and pass the For the People Act.

Because to lose those freedoms – built and protected by the right to vote – will be the end to our democracy.

(Melanie Levesque of Brookline is a former state Senator.)

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