Fifty Years Ago Today: Signing of the Voting Rights Act

By Brandon Naylor

In front of a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said, “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.”

Fifty years ago today, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law, lifting decades-old barriers to voting for millions of Americans. Almost overnight, those Americans previously denied the right to vote through the use of violence, poll taxes, and literacy tests became members of the electoral process.

Yet, voters across the country still face challenges today which limit their full participation. Outdated registration and voting procedures are now among the largest barriers to keeping voters from fully engaging in elections. Paper-based voter registration systems lack the accessibility and accountability of digital systems. Voters who move regularly, such as students, struggle to keep track of varying registration requirements, voting options, and ID laws — or even to keep their information up-to-date. Millions of absentee ballots are lost or not delivered because sufficient tracking technology has not been widely adopted.

The good news is that these are problems with solutions. Modernizing registration and elections by incorporating technology seems the natural next step. In our daily lives, we have all come to depend on the technology in our smartphones to improve accessibility for communication, finance, and navigation (not to mention our sweet tunes). Why not bring the same level of innovation to the election space? Why not bring our election administration process into the 21st century by harnessing the wealth of technology and innovation we have around us?

The goal of an inclusive system didn’t end fifty years ago with the signing of the VRA. If, as President Johnson said, there is no duty that weighs more heavily on us than to ensure the right to vote, we need to make sure we are prepared to meet that duty with all the tools at our disposal.

With more accessibility to registration and voting comes a more varied American electorate, with voices that are uplifted and heard. That’s the point of a representative democracy, after all — one voice, one vote. In that way, it’s possible that modernization of elections could bring about the best version of our democracy.

Brandon Naylor