Archive 2008 - 2019

Civics Sunday: Voting Rights

by Chris Cain

Recently the Civics Sunday series explored what is required to become a naturalized U.S. Citizen.  These individuals join all U.S. Citizens in being responsible for sustaining our democratic nation.  Below is the listing of citizenship responsibilities from an earlier Civics Sunday article.  Today’s focus is on voting as it relates to Participate in the democratic process.

Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens

·         Support and defend the Constitution.

·         Serve the country when required.

·         Participate in the democratic process.

·         Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.

·         Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.

·         Participate in your local community


Federal laws passed over the years help protect Americans’ right to vote and make it easier for citizens to exercise that right.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections.

Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.”  (Wikipedia)



The law had an immediate impact. By the end of 1965, a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered, one-third by Federal examiners. By the end of 1966, only 4 out of the 13 southern states had fewer than 50 percent of African Americans registered to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was readopted and strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982.


Voter Accessibility Laws

Several federal laws protect the rights of Americans with disabilities to vote. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).


Language Accessibility

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) helps people overcome language barriers to voting. (

The language assistance, required by the federal Voting Rights Act since 1975, applies to places with Asian American, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native populations that meet certain requirements. The Justice Department, which enforces the law, says the assistance helps more people “be informed voters and participate effectively in our representative democracy.” During the last reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, in 2006, Congress extended the language assistance provisions to 2032, and they were not affected by a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that invalidated other sections of the law.

The jurisdictions that now must provide non-English ballots and other elections material – which include some communities on tribal lands – encompass 68.8 million voting-age U.S. citizens. That is 31.3% of the total U.S. voting-eligible population of 220 million, which consists of citizens ages 18 and older. (Pew Research Center)

All the above laws are represented in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 51; Section 1:

“Every citizen eighteen years of age or older, not being a person under guardianship or incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction, and not being temporarily or permanently disqualified by law because of corrupt practices in respect to elections, who is a resident in the city or town where he claims the right to vote at the time he registers, and who has complied with the requirements of this chapter, may have his name entered on the list of voters in such city or town, and may vote therein in any such election, or except insofar as restricted in any town in which a representative town meeting form of government has been established, in any meeting held for the transaction of town affairs. Notwithstanding any special law to the contrary, every such citizen who resides within the boundaries of any district, as defined in section one A of chapter forty-one, may vote for district officers and in any district meeting thereof, and no other person may so vote. A person otherwise qualified to vote for national or state officers shall not, by reason of a change of residence within the commonwealth, be disqualified from voting for such national or state officers in the city or town from which he has removed his residence until the expiration of 6 months from such removal.”

Legislators over the years have enacted and modified voting laws.  It is our responsibility to use this precious right to make our voice heard - in elections and at Town Meeting.


Comments (1)

Thank you so much for these articles. I am learning so much high school was so long ago.

JEAN MORRISSEY | 2019-08-25 03:56:14