It is a fallacy that the United States has always supported a right to vote and elect leaders for all citizens. In truth, there have been more years when large groups of this nation were locked out of voting then those with voting rights for most.
On June 21, 1776 when the newly formed nation took up the issue, most of the new states restricted voting to white men, older than 21, who were Protestant, and owned property.
On February 3, 1870 voting was extended to Black men, a right not officially revoked but extremely limited under Jim Crow statutes, including poll taxes.
In 1920, white women were given the right to vote.
1924 brought voting rights for American Indians.
It was 1943 before Asian Americans could vote.
Even the residents of Washington DC did not have the right to vote until 1961.
In 1968, the Voting Rights act extended civil rights and voting justice to Black people.
In 1971, 18-years-old became the minimum age to cast a ballot, due mostly to pressure from activists who felt that any person old enough to die for their country should have the right to determine the leaders who would send them to war.
When Ronald Reagan extended the Voting Rights act for twenty-five years in 1983, it seemed unheard of that there would be a return to efforts to restrict voting and deny United States' citizens their right to cast a ballot. But that is where we are at today. Instead of protecting democracy and the right to vote as a benchmark of a healthy democracy, a large portion of those elected would rather protect their political party.
Over the decades, many faith communities have restrained from speaking about the right to vote, feeling it edges too close to the separation of church and state. In 2020, that changed as Georgia's historic Black churches made it a priority to get people to the polls. They were so successful that removing Sunday voting became one of the objectives for removal in the voting limitations bill in the state.
During the times when the groups listed above were denied voting rights, they were denied other rights of citizenship. Even when the right is given, it can be decades before a shift happens in elected representation that is reflective of the newly-granted right. White women gained the right to vote in 1920, but it was the 1970's before they had the right to rent an apartment, hold a bank account, or carry a credit card. Others like Black people are still waiting.
As your faith community or organization considers its fall justice programming or events this year, consider becoming a church that is committed to helping every member who can vote get to the polls on November 2nd, 2021 and November 8, 2022. Make plans now for how to coordinate ride shares or reminder chains. If you are worried about getting politically focused - just remind yourself, church members, and the wider community that you are not telling people who they should elect, you are just in favor of all citizens to register their choice.
Want to go even deeper - create a voting rights rally to register voters in your state.