Voting and Speaking Out

More than four decades ago, the Voting Rights Act put an end to the widespread discrimination that robbed people of color of their voice at the ballot box. In state capitals across the country, we are again seeing a pernicious attack on one of the American people’s most cherished and fundamental rights: the right to vote.

Voting rights are under attack in this country as state legislatures nationwide pass voter suppression laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud and safeguarding election integrity. These voter suppression laws take many forms, and collectively lead to significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.

During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.

Protests and demonstrations often are aimed at an audience that would strongly prefer not to hear the message. For example, the First Amendment protects the right of labor unions to picket on sidewalks in front of workplaces engaged in allegedly improper employment practices. Likewise, the First Amendment protects the right of people of all political beliefs to protest on sidewalks in front of their elected officials’ offices. Thus, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois often advocates to insure that groups have the right to express their messages to the audiences they want to hear those messages.