THE BLOG
07/01/2013 04:37 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

It's Time for the Freedom to Vote

Last week, the United States Supreme Court attacked a signature achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. The decision in Shelby v. Holder, to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act, will make it harder to vote for voters of color, language minorities and other Americans.

Since 1965, Section 5 has protected voters by preventing discrimination before it happens in regions of the country with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices. Section 5 has blocked more than 1,500 of these types of policies from going into effect since its inception. Just this past election, the U.S. Justice Department used Section 5 to prevent politicians in Texas, South Carolina and Florida from passing restrictive laws that would have reduced the power of voters of color. The Supreme Court effectively destroyed Section 5 by striking the formula that determines which states are covered, leaving voters vulnerable.

Section 5 has been such a critical protection because so many states, year after year, push new laws making it harder to vote. This continues to happen because we have 13,000 different voting jurisdictions in this country that run elections 13,000 different ways. Under this confusing patchwork system, the right to vote is left at the mercy of state and local officials.

It doesn't make sense to have a system where every jurisdiction can make up its own rules. This only serves to make it easier for politicians to manipulate the system for political gain. And while Section 5 has been successful at preventing the authorization of terrible laws in states with a history of discriminatory voting policies, these manipulations of our voting system are not bound to just those 15 states -- they are widespread, targeted and coordinated.

This is why our organizations, ColorOfChange and Advancement Project, are calling for a constitutional amendment for the freedom to vote, along with partners including Credo, DailyKos and Democracy for America. This week we launched Free to Vote, and along with partners and allies, we are advancing a long-term movement for the freedom to vote.

Along the way we will also leverage the energy of our members to support state-level efforts for a wide range of voting expansion policies, like early voting and universal registration. However, without a right to vote amendment at the federal level, and in the national consciousness, each state will continue to set its own electoral rules, leading to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies on everything from polling hours, registration and absentee ballot requirements, voting equipment and voting rights of people with felony convictions. The only way to guarantee that every citizen has the same opportunity to vote is to have national standards for everyone.

Many are surprised to learn that there is no explicit mention in the Constitution of a guaranteed right to vote. While the Constitution mentions the right to vote more than any other -- forbidding it from being abridged based on race, gender, age or ability to pay a poll tax -- it contains no affirmative language making that right explicit. In fact, the U.S. is one of only 11 of the 119 democratic countries in the world that do not explicitly provide the freedom to vote in their Constitutions.

And now, decades after courageous Americans fought for, and won, the most effective civil rights legislation in our nation's history, Section 5 has been gutted -- and we're once again debating how, and whether, to make sure all Americans can vote. No way. We need a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to vote for every citizen, regardless of race or where they live. The freedom to vote is essential to the American dream. Any attempt by government or corporations to limit that freedom is fundamentally opposed to the America we demand.

Voting is the one time when we are all equal. No matter what race or age, and whether rich or poor, all Americans have an equal voice at the ballot box -- and Section 5 ensured that our nation lived up to that promise. The Supreme Court's decision, then, underscores the need for a more comprehensive measure: an affirmative, fundamental right to vote in the U.S. Constitution.