Protecting the right to vote: Fifty years after Selma


The “Bloody Sunday” beatings of civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, served as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Fifty years after Selma, this Election Day reminds us of the struggles— past, present, and future— to ensure equal voting rights.

Our nation was founded as a democracy, yet for centuries many people were denied the right to vote as a matter of law. Even after legal barriers were overcome, disenfranchisement took other forms. African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities were denied access to the polls through violence, intimidation, and many other forms of discrimination. It took years of struggle and bloodshed to enact laws that protect the fundamental right to cast a ballot.

Immense challenges remain today. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted key protections against voting discrimination in the Voting Rights Act. Congress has yet to restore this law to its former vitality.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack. State and local officials are disseminating misinformation about voting requirements and procedures, eliminating early voting, purging voter rolls, and enforcing discriminatory voter identification requirements that disproportionately affect minorities, transgender people and elderly voters. Many polling sites are inaccessible to non-English speakers and voters living with disabilities. Far too many states, including Massachusetts, are ignoring federal laws that are designed to expand access to the polls.

Just this year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and our voting rights allies— in partnership with Ropes & Gray— settled a major case, NAACP v. Galvin, which challenged our state’s failure to comply with its federally-mandated duty to provide voter registration opportunities to public assistance recipients. As a result of our settlement, the state will now automatically distribute voter registration materials to public assistance recipients and provide multi-lingual assistance to those who wish to register.

Each year, the Lawyers’ Committee’s national office operates an Election Protection Hotline to assist voters who need information or assistance (see information below). Through this effort, we know firsthand that significant barriers— from incorrect voter registration records to inaccessible polling places— continue to stand in the way of equal voting opportunity, particularly for people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, and people living with disabilities.

Looking ahead, we know that vigilance will be key to protecting voting rights. At the Lawyers’ Committee, we are committed to dismantling barriers that stand in the way of equal access to the ballot box.

On Election Day, remember that the right to vote is precious. However you choose to vote, VOTE!

Election Protection Toll Free Hotlines: : 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.