Every year since President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the first Law Day in 1958, the United States has marked May 1 as a day of national recognition of our great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under the law. The theme for Law Day, May 1, as designated by the American Bar Association, is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.”
The theme of voting rights is timely with the nation preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of two landmark pieces of legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of both these statutes is a guiding principle: That equality of opportunity to participate in the Nation’s civic and economic life is a fundamental right of all Americans and ought to be protected as such. While there is still much work to do, these laws have been crucial in the progress toward this goal.
Securing every American’s right to vote is a central part of this struggle. As President Lyndon B. Johnson pointed out in his 1965 Message to Congress on Voting: “In our system, the first right and most vital of all our rights is the right to vote. ... It is from the exercise of this right that the guarantee of all our other rights flows. Unless the right to vote be secure and undenied, all other rights are insecure and subject to denial for all our citizens.”
However, the right to vote is far from secure. A recent report by the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration noted that voters frequently stand in long lines caused by broken voting machines, confusing ballots, and untrained or undertrained poll workers. This is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy. Local, state, and federal officials must work together to overcome these barriers to voting participation.
Participating in the political process is both our right and our duty as citizens. This year on Law Day, let us reflect upon what each of us can do to protect and promote the voting rights of ourselves and our fellow Americans. It is only by ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to vote that we can be sure, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Kristina R. Olvera,
Director, Madera County Law Library