EVERYWHERE WE TURN, America faces existential threats to our democracy. Voting rights. Economic downturn. Candidates for office from local municipalities to the highest in the land suggest that election results don’t matter. Voter suppression efforts disenfranchise communities of color. Government stalemate. These threats impact our ability to advance economic, racial, and social justice.

In this moment, it is clear that Massachusetts cannot settle for “good enough” – we must be a beacon for the rest of the nation and actively work for more.

Our pioneering legacy is what has always made Massachusetts different. We laid the blueprint for universal health care. We were the first to advance marriage equality and among the first to establish public schools, hospitals, and libraries. And, almost 250 years ago, we led the fight to establish our democracy.

Unfortunately, when it comes to democracy today, Massachusetts isn’t leading. We are still playing catch-up. 

Last week our state Legislature announced a compromise bill on voting rights in Massachusetts. Thank goodness we are moving, but why are voting rights still under debate in Massachusetts. We have voter participation gaps that hit communities of color, working families, seniors, and youth every election cycle. Yet, in Massachusetts we find ourselves nearly a half century behind on removing the most significant barrier to voting — the registration deadline. We need same day registration, which Maine adopted in 1973. If economic, racial, and social justice really matters in Massachusetts, we must break down the voting barriers that continue to shut out our most vulnerable communities.

But building a strong democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box. Today Massachusetts is one of the least transparent states in the country when it comes to public records and meetings, leaving journalists, advocates, and residents buried in a sea of red tape. At the same time, Massachusetts is the most expensive state in the country to start a business. Incredibly, Recreo coffee shop in West Roxbury pays the same registration fees as the national chains.

The time has come for new leaders who understand that who casts a ballot determines who we elect – which determines all of our rights: civil rights, gender rights, the right to unionize, reproductive rights. New leadership that reforms our public records law so that big decisions are no longer made in the shadows. New leadership that understands democracy is not a solo act, it requires action and belongs to all of us.

This is a difficult time in our country. Gun violence in our schools and communities. Reproductive freedom under attack from the highest court in the land. Systemic and persistent racism that drives growing economic inequality and a polarized political ecosystem. These are the challenges that test our democracy. And right now, we need courageous, visionary, and inclusive leadership that will fight on the ground with communities to ensure no resident or family is left behind.

Tanisha Sullivan is a Democratic primary candidate for secretary of state.