Fifty-one years ago today, the U.S. House passed the Voting Rights Act that outlawed discriminatory practices that prevented African-Americans from voting in local and state elections. It passed the House by a 328-74 vote and subsequently passed the Senate by a 77-19 vote. The Act was signed into law on August 6th by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Earlier that year, Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress and said, “It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
The United States of America does not have an explicit right to vote defined in the U.S. Constitution. While the right to vote has been expanding for over 240 years (only White landowners could vote in early American history), American citizens lack any universal protection against voting discrimination. Differing policies exist in states on voter ID, ballot access, voter registration, and even voting rights for citizens with past felony convictions. The patchwork of confusing and contradictory state and local laws lead to direct or indirect disenfranchisement of voters.
The right to vote is a fundamental right for all citizens in a democracy. Nearly all other democracies around the world have an explicit right to vote enshrined in their constitution. While the U.S. lacks a universal right, many states and cities have passed right to vote resolutions. Read more about FairVote’s policy guide on A Constitutional Right to Vote.