Decoding the Freedom to Vote

A line of voters filling their ballots at a polling place
Local residents cast their ballots during the midterm elections at a polling location in Calhoun, Georgia on November 8, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Cheney Orr

“Democracy Decoded,” a podcast by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) returns today with a season focused on the freedom to vote. In our highly polarized political environment, this fundamental freedom is under attack by bad actors seeking to gain an electoral advantage. In its second season, Democracy Decoded explains these threats and how to respond with experts from CLC and other pro-democracy partners. You can subscribe to the podcast here. 

The history of self-government in our nation is intertwined with the generational struggle to expand the freedom to vote. First granted only to white male property owners, the freedom to vote now extends to all eligible citizens aged 18 and over, but challenges persist to this day. 

The road to progress has been difficult and uneven. Women’s suffrage was not achieved at the federal level until the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 18, 1920—an effort that spanned nearly 100 years of organizing and lobbying— and women of color had to fight even longer.  

After formerly enslaved Black voters were finally granted the right to vote after the Civil War, those hard-won gains were ruthlessly clawed back during a relentless white supremacist campaign following Reconstruction. Civil rights leaders and activists fought for the freedom to vote for Black people for decades, often facing intimidation and violence.  

Their hard work culminated in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but challenges persist to this day. The struggle for equal access to the ballot continues for many other communities, including Latinos, Native Americans Asian Americans, voters with disabilities and citizens with past convictions. 

At Campaign Legal Center, we recognize that preserving the rights so many fought for so long to achieve requires constant vigilance. Our mission is to ensure that every citizen can vote without barriers, no matter their circumstance. To make every vote count, our elections must be secure and accessible, so everyone’s voice is heard. 

The 2022 midterm elections put on full display the range of challenges facing voters as they seek to exercise their fundamental rights. This included fewer opportunities to vote by mail or vote early in some states, outdated and restrictive voter registration policies, discriminatory voter ID laws, voters with felony convictions being denied the freedom to vote, voter intimidation and frivolous mass challenges to voter eligibility.   

For individual voters, encountering any one of these undemocratic roadblocks can lead to extreme frustration, sowing doubts about the inclusiveness of our system of government, and even causing some to give up on voting entirely.   

Every vote should count, and every voice must be heard. Systemic barriers that keep voters from the ballot box must be opposed, and efforts to expand the freedom to vote and make voting more accessible must be encouraged.  Democracy Decoded Season 2 reveals these barriers and opportunities through analysis by CLC experts and the stories of voters.  

Our organization utilizes litigation, policy analysis, state-based advocacy and public education efforts, such as Democracy Decoded to protect the freedom to vote and build confidence in our election system. Realizing the vision of a more perfect union governed by “we the people” requires nothing less. 

Danielle is CLC's Senior Director, Voting Rights.