Fundamental to our democracy is the right of citizens to vote – to choose and elect leaders – and to participate in the political process. It is a right that is conferred upon citizenship. It is the most cherished of all rights in a democracy giving people a voice in the workings and decisions of their government.
The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), with roots embedded in the struggle for equality and opportunity, calls on Congress and lawmakers of all political persuasions to protect the right to vote. We decry the surge of legislative enactments and proposals in states across the nation that would restrict and suppress voting. Under the guise of ensuring voter integrity and electoral reform they, in fact, impose barriers to voting – discriminatory practices directed at minorities and communities of color – that threaten to reinstate another Jim Crow era in the country.
Community Health Centers stand in unity with courageous state and national leaders who are speaking out – many protesting in civil disobedience – to focus nationwide attention this flagrant injustice. We urge the Congress not only to restore, but to strengthen and expand the Voting Right Act of 1965. For nearly 50 years since enactment, this Act has stood as the guarantor of the right to vote, serving to enforce the mandates of 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments that bar racial discrimination in voting. The Act has enabled millions of Americans to register and vote, helping to open the doors of equality and opportunity for all people.
The Voting Rights Act is now weakened by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court which has unleashed a rash of restrictions making it harder to vote. We need lawmakers to step forward to ensure equal access to the polls and to ensure that voters, whatever their race or color, can register and cast their votes free of intimidation or obstruction, and to have their votes counted. We remember the words of President Lyndon Johnson who in the wake of the Selma march and speaking before a joint session of Congress in 1965 stated: “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.”
At stake for all America is the future of our democracy. And as the great civil rights leader and the late Congressman John Lewis, who bore the scars of Selma and a lifetime fighting for voting rights and social change, once said: “The right to vote is precious: it is almost sacred: it is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in America.”
Established in 1971, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) serves as the national voice for America’s Health Centers and as an advocate for health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.