We must protect the right to vote, even today  

We must protect the right to vote, even today  

You cannot think about the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 without thinking about two of the most consequential voices of my lifetime, House Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts In the final chapter of 2020, we must recommit to repairing our democracy Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed MORE (D-S.C.) and former Rep. John LewisJohn LewisDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Biden must look to executive action to fulfill vow to Black Americans The purposeful is political: Gen Z bowls over their doubters MORE (D-Ga.), who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on July 17. 

But if it weren’t for a courageous man from South Carolina named George Elmore, Clyburn might not be the highest-ranking African American member of the U.S Congress and Lewis might not have been that body’s conscience.

George Elmore was born in 1905 in the heart of the Jim Crow South. But he dreamed big and worked hard and, little by little, he found his life changing. He found success — and then he tried to vote. 


There wasn’t a problem at first. He had light skin, so the clerk thought he was white and, just like that, George Elmore registered to vote. But casting that vote presented a problem. Simply put: He tried, they denied, he sued and he won. 

In fact, U.S. District Judge Waites Waring’s 1947 ruling in Elmore v. Rice not only affirmed Elmore’s right to vote, it struck down the all-white closed primary in South Carolina and across the nation.

It was a huge win for the cause of civil rights, but it wasn’t without its costs.

The backlash from his lawsuit and the resulting decision cost Elmore everything. He lost his businesses, he endured continual threats, and the cross-burnings caused his wife to have an emotional breakdown that left her institutionalized for the rest of her life. 

George Elmore had the audacity to think he would be treated like an American and, in 1959, he died for it. By the end, he was a pauper and a broken man.

Six years later, President Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act, putting the full force of the federal government behind patriots such as Elmore. 


Now, 55 years later, we must ask the question again: What does it mean to be American? After all, tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to stamp out appear to be continuing today.

Today, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab refuses to implement the state’s “Vote Anywhere” law even though the legislature passed it more than a year ago. Is that “American”?

Today, there’s a woman in Texas who likely would risk her life if she wants to vote on Election Day because her lupus puts her at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The state law says that, since she’s under age 65, she either votes in person or not at all. Is she an American?

In Ohio, more than 460,000 men and women have been purged from the voting rolls, including some who voted as recently as 2016. 

In North Carolina, Democrats won dramatic victories across the state, thanks to historic turnout driven by early voting. Then the GOP-controlled legislature changed the rules regarding  early voting, adding restrictions.

In South Carolina, there’s probably a student who just found out that her college ID doesn’t count as a voter ID. Apparently South  Carolina still has a poll tax; you just pay it to the Department of Motor Vehicles now. 

Are they Americans? Or are they people we can cast aside because their skin is too dark, or their jobs don’t pay enough, or they don’t live where we do, or pray to the same God.

That’s why groups such as the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and many others continue to fight — in and out of courtrooms — to protect the most precious and powerful nonviolent instrument that we have in any democratic society: the right to vote.

I believe in the right to vote. I believe it is the only way to guarantee self-government. It is the only way to fight back against tyranny and oppression. It is the only way to be free.

I believe in the right to vote because I believe in what George Elmore did — and in all of those who came before and fought, bled, cried and died so that I wouldn’t have to. I believe they fought for me and that fight was not in vain.

I believe in the right to vote because I believe in freedom — and we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.