For a free people the franchise means everything. In a democratic republic, it is the proper name for empowerment. It is the essence of political equality. As the Rev. Joseph Carter put it in St. Francisville, Louisiana, in 1963, “A man is not a first-class citizen, a number one citizen, unless he is a voter.”But for nonwhite Americans and women, exercising this constitutional right involved a long, painful struggle from the nation’s founding to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.