The Issue

The right to vote is the most important right granted to a U.S. citizen, as it is preservative of all other rights. Yet our nation’s history has involved one discriminated group of Americans after another, having had to fight for their rightful place in our democracy. 

When our country was founded, only property-owning White men were granted the right to vote. After the Civil War, when slavery was finally abolished, the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment prohibited “the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Only in the last century did the Nineteenth Amendment give women the right to vote. And a little over 40 years ago, the Twenty-sixth Amendment was ratified to expand the franchise by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

These Amendments reference voting rights only in terms of the criteria under which they cannot be denied or abridged. Yet the U.S. Constitution, the bedrock of America’s democracy, does not contain any language that explicitly affirms the right to vote.

The Partisan Playbook

In the absence of an explicit right to vote in the Constitution, states may adopt any voting laws that legally discriminate – as long as they are for reasons besides race, gender, age or ability to pay a poll tax. This is why voting discrimination remains a continuing, frequent, and growing problem in America.

Today in dozens of states, laws are being used in partisan politics to keep millions of Americans from voting. These include new measures that require voter ID or proof of citizenship, eliminate early voting days or locations, restrict or shut polling locations, and a myriad other tactics designed to unfairly limit and discourage voter participation by African-American, Latino, Asian, young, and lower-income Americans.

Just in the past year, Advancement Project has been involved in legal challenges against voter restriction policies in Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina. How long must we play defense with legal challenges against attacks on our democracy?

The Solution: An Affirmative Right to Vote

Enshrining an affirmative, explicit Right to Vote in the Constitution would bring America closer to living up to its highest ideals of a just democracy. An explicit Right to Vote would protect every American from voter suppression by cynical politicians. It would ensure a uniform set of voting laws throughout the nation, rather than an assortment of inconsistent voting guidelines.

The Right to Vote Initiative

The Right to Vote initiative is a national campaign that seeks to build a broad movement that will move America to safeguard every American’s right to vote. Through partnerships and deep engagement with local community organizations, we seek to win local, state, and federal legislation leading to a Constitutional Amendment enshrining an affirmative right to vote.

Our democracy is failing too many communities, as the cynical whims of politicians defy the collective will of the people. Advancement Project and our partners are bringing more communities together to strategically move democracy forward through the Right to Vote initiative. We the people must stand up together for fairness and justice, and dedicate ourselves to see our democracy not only as an unfinished project – but as a movement.


Advancement Project report: In Pursuit of an Affirmative Right to Vote

New York Times editorial on universal right to vote

New York Times video