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The United States is a contradiction. Its founding principles embrace the ideals of freedom and equality, but it is a nation built on the systematic exclusion and suppression of communities of color. From the start, so many of this country’s laws and public policies, which should serve as the scaffolding that guides progress, were instead designed explicitly to prevent people of color from fully participating. Moreover, these legal constructs are not some relic of antebellum or Jim Crow past but rather remain part of the fabric of American policymaking.

Over the centuries, even as the nation struggled to prohibit the most repugnant forms of exclusion and suppression, it neglected to uproot entrenched structural racism. The inevitable result is an American democracy that is distorted in ways that concentrate power and influence. For example, according to a new Center for American Progress analysis, in 2016, 9.5 million American adults—most of whom were people of color—lacked full voting rights.

The inability to fully participate in the democratic process translates into a lack of political power—the power to elect candidates with shared values and the power to enact public policy priorities. As a result, people of color, especially Black people, continue to endure exclusion and discrimination in the electoral process, more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery.

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